THE BLOG
04/02/2013 11:51 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

Lean In, Lean Out, Lean On

Winter is now changing to spring and the gradual process of flowers flowering and buds sprouting begins anew. There is a time for every purpose, as they say.

There does come a time in our lives when the actual process of living slows down. Or just changes. Or just goes in a different direction. Many people refer to this period as retirement. I don't. I think it can happen at any age. It can also happen at any stage. You see, I see our lives in stages. Throughout the various stages we flower and grow and metamorphosize into different forms. No, I'm not talking about alien life forms. I am talking about stages of development. And during those stages we realize that there comes a time for the next stage.

I recently made a life stage change. It was a professional change, but that, of course, has a huge impact on my personal life. In fact, nowadays those two are inextricably mingled. We spend so much time on our professional lives that the boundaries between the professional and the personal are muddied. I don't know if we are supposed to lean in, lean out, or lean on. I do know that there does come a time when change is a good thing. I love living in a part of the country that has four distinct seasons. Most years those changes come at their appointed months and bring with them all sorts of other changes. We change closets, change hairstyles, change shoes, and sometimes we begin the process of seeking job changes. That's a good thing. But if that happens, what happens to the mentor/mentee relationship that has been built up during the present job?

I believe that the mark of a good mentor/mentee relationship must be founded on honesty. If we are not honest in that relationship there is no relationship and indeed nobody learns. The mentor/mentee relationship is a dual learning experience. One teaches; the other learns. And the process is soon reversed. We must learn from one another to grow and to change.

Throughout my professional career I have been blessed with wonderful bosses and wonderful fellow employees. I've learned from them and I hope they might have learned just a little from me. Almost 10 years ago I entered into another stage of my life that was to have forever changed me. I hired a young woman, a newly minted college grad, who called me on the phone and told me that I really needed to hire her if I was serious about ending senior hunger. She told me that she wasn't in it for the money. She said she just knew that she could make a difference. We talked for quite a while and then I invited her in for the "official" interview. I was hooked. From that moment on I knew I could count on her. In fact, I knew that America's hungry seniors could count on her. She is from a generation of doers, of believers, of transformers.

We traveled from one corner of this country to the next and grew together. She taught me as much about pop culture on those long flights as I taught her about trying to raise money in the nonprofit sector. We learned together the tragic realities of the hidden hungry in this country and tried to fashion a message and a solution that would engage a societal response and make a difference in saving lives. We fought for what we believed in even when others didn't quite agree with the direction in which we were headed. We moved on together to accept a challenge far greater than the one in which we had been engaged. We still work to shift society's thinking about ending food poverty for seniors in America.

But how long does one work at a job before it is time to accept the next challenge? How long is too long? I know the answer to that one now. I waited too long to acknowledge it. In my role as mentor I must do the job as it is meant to be done. I must impart to my mentee that there does come a time to be pushed from the sheltering comfort of arms that have held steady and embark on another path to enlarge the circle of knowledge and to find another cause in which to believe.

And so, together, we have come to the decision that it is time for the next stage for her. As a mother knows, when the child leaves home to go out into the world on her own, you are filled with great pride and great sorrow -- all at the same time. But it is right. It is best. There is a time for every purpose after all.

I am lucky that she will now actually serve on my Board of Advisers because in fact, I will always look to her for advice. I hope she will always seek my counsel, too.

My role now has shifted and I am eagerly looking for organizations that could really benefit from her persistence and her courage. The list is long and I know that whoever is lucky enough to recruit her will be almost as lucky as I have been for 10 years. They won't have the benefit of having seen her grow from the scrappy fighter to the mature mediator but they will have the benefit of a young woman who not only worked on her graduate degree while with me, but also will indeed be the commencement speaker at that very same graduation ceremony in just a few weeks. She is persistent and courageous.

There comes a time for all of us to move on. The good ones, the ones that will make a difference in the world, will have made an indelible impression on all whom they've touched. This one has done just that. Go forward, my friend, and make this world better. Let us stand on your shoulders as you lead us. We are counting on you.