I am the person I am today because somebody decided to mentor me.
I suspect this might be true for you as well. Whether you were assigned a mentor through some kind of formal program, or had a coach or teacher who changed your life, or were fortunate enough to find someone who took you under their wing and showed you the ropes -- if you've ever achieved anything you know you couldn't have achieved alone, more likely than not you had a mentor.
January is National Mentoring Month. (And Thursday, January 17 is Thank Your Mentor Day.) It is a time to thank and celebrate the mentors we've had throughout the course of our lives, and to reflect on the continued importance of mentoring. As the current Chair of the Alumni Association for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (as well as a former Mentee/Little Brother and a current Mentor/Big Brother), I see the positive and empowering effects of mentoring all the time. And the great thing about being a mentor is that anyone can be one -- you simply have to make the decision and take the first step.
Consequently, in honor of National Mentoring Month, I thought it fitting to highlight seven reasons why you (yes, you!) might consider becoming a mentor.
1) You have the potential to change a young person's life. Now, don't be intimidated by the weight of that. Like I said, anyone can be a mentor -- and you don't have to be as wise or pithy as the Buddha to change a life. In my case, I was matched with a life-changing mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters when I was seven years-old. My "Big Brother" Adam Schiff (now Congressman Adam Schiff) was at the time a young lawyer working for the U.S. State Attorney's office. I had no idea what a U.S. State Attorney actually did, but I knew it sounded impressive. As was the fact that he'd graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law. Growing up with a single-mom in South Los Angeles, I didn't know many people like Adam, and having him in my life, seeing his example, gave me a new sense of life's possibilities and my own potential.
2) It will get you to stop thinking about yourself all the time. Let's face it: so much of people's mental energies is spent on ourselves -- our hopes, our fears, our anxieties, our next Big Plan, our goals for the future. Having a mentee -- who indeed has his or her own hopes and fears and plans -- forces us to occasionally stop thinking about ourselves and transcend our egotism, not just a few times a year but on a consistent basis. By focusing our energies on helping someone else, we provide a valuable service both to our mentee and to ourselves. (Indeed, thinking about ourselves all the time can get pretty exhausting.) And in the process, perhaps our mentees can help us see that our fears aren't as insurmountable -- or our plans as all-important -- as we think they are.
3) It will help you stay hip and keep up with the times. There's nothing like having a young person in your life to keep you from turning into an old fogey. (And as I've learned from being a Big Brother myself the last four years, you don't have to be that old to turn into one.)
4) You are helping build a better, more stable society. This isn't just fluff. One-to-one mentoring actually helps create happier, more stable adults, which helps society at large. For instance, according to a well-regarded study performed by Public/Private Ventures to measure the impact of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, kids with Bigs were:
- 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs than kids not in the program
- 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol than kids not in the program
- 52 percent less likely to skip school than kids not in the program
- 37 percent less likely to skip a class than kids not in the program
So apart from that warm, fuzzy-feeling it gives you inside, being a mentor also has a measurable positive impact.
5) Jamie Foxx would give you a thumbs up! Actor/entertainer Jamie Foxx is a huge advocate of mentoring -- and in fact, he recently signed on to become the national spokesman for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Now, I don't know about you, but I'd certainly want the guy who starred in Django Unchained on my good side. And if you become a mentor, who knows -- he might even follow you on Twitter.
6) You may end up with more than just a mentee -- but a new member of your family. Since we were paired up all those many years ago, Adam and I have gone through a lot together. Celebrations, adventures, difficult times, special moments we'll never forget. I was honored to be in his wedding to his lovely wife Eve (yes, that's really her name!), and I stood right by his side when he was sworn into Congress back in 2000. Meanwhile, Adam was there in the bleachers at my graduations from Yale University and USC film school. And he stood right by my side when I lost one of my best friends in a tragic plane crash. Through the good times and bad, he's been there for me, and we've been there for each other. In short, Adam isn't just a mentor -- he's family, and I couldn't possibly think of him any other way.
7) The life you end up changing could be your own. Sure, it's a bit of a cliché. But it doesn't make it any less true. Your decision to become a mentor will lead to a series of events and opportunities you can't possibly forsee, to experiences and challenges and rewards you can't anticipate--but all of them will force you to learn and evolve and, perhaps even despite yourself, become a better human being. Yes, the world needs more mentors, more shining beacons who will help our young people navigate the perilous challenges of our ever-changing world. But it's just as important to remember that young people can also serve as beacons for us--by helping us navigate the perilous challenges in our own lives (though they typically do this in the most innocent ways, often without trying to), and by reminding us about what really matters.
Ultimately, mentoring isn't a one-way process. It's a two-way street. It has the potential to change -- indeed, to radically transform -- not just one life, but two. It's fun, it's an adventure, you'll learn a lot about yourself, you'll have stories to last a lifetime. You may end up with a new member of your family. Jamie Foxx will dig it. And its ripple effects have the potential to change the world. Perhaps even to save it.
Not a bad return on your investment, if you ask me.
Follow David McMillan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DaveMcM