“Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”
As the old saying goes, the only constant in this world is change. Change brings laughter, tears, anxiety, and excitement. Change can stop and go without warning. It creeps slowly along, and then suddenly jerks you backwards as you accelerate forward.
As student affairs professionals, we know the importance of mentors. They help us navigate our careers, give us invaluable advice, lift our spirits, and often bring us back down to earth. This past year created a new type of mentoring relationship for me. It is a mentor that has helped me navigate change. I call it a change management mentor. This informal relationship has assisted me through the personal and professional transitions of beginning a new job at a new institution in a new place. This mentoring offers “a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” It focuses less on the nitty gritty of the everyday life of a student affairs professional and more on the issues surrounding the change of the past year. The relationship helps me turn change into positive growth.
This mentor is not an old supervisor, a formal mentor, or even a higher education professional. She is an executive in the corporate world. Our relationship began through shared connections and timing. She and I went to the same undergraduate institution and played the same sport though at different times. We connected at an alumni event and kept in touch. The more we spoke, the more she became a trusted advisor. She continued to give me advice, and the mentoring began. Even though we are in different professions and have different backgrounds, her experience and advice has calmed many of the storms that change has swirled up in the past year.
This mentoring has been particularly valuable because it offers a different perspective outside of student affairs and higher education. She sees my situation from a different viewpoint. Her mentoring focuses more on the bigger picture of change and its challenges, both personal and professional. It helps me handle this particular area of my life. She opens my eyes to see change as a positive when I feel blinded by the negatives.
Her advice runs the gamut. She helps me navigate my new institution and even helps me cure the slice of my golf swing. She reminds me that handling change is a part of what it means to mature as a person and a professional. She was the one who told me it was okay to be sad as I left familiarity and comfort behind. She helps me recognize that change is not just a new job, but a new city, a new routine, a new social circle, and new hobbies. She explains how change can help me grow in my personal life and in my career. She encourages my exploration of new interests (particularly my new love of golf). She acknowledges the importance of my past while pushing me toward the future. She never tells me to forget the past or just to move on, but to learn from it and focus on the present. She challenges me to grow where I am.
No matter what our conversations entail, her advice remains practical and thoughtful. One might say one -liners are her specialty. It seems that she has a new one each mentoring session. Some might find them cliché, but I find them to be nuggets of wisdom to grasp and reflect on. The world keeps changing around me, but those words somehow give me something to hold on to.
She reminds me what a gift it is to be in this profession. I am not sure many outside of student affairs truly understand it. What we do isn’t easy, but we are lucky. We help students through one of the most significant experiences of their lives. Everyone has bad days at work, but if you can go home and be proud of what you do, that is a gift. What we do can be pretty fun as well. Even though my mentor may not fully know what a student affairs career entails, she understands the importance of the profession and its impact on the college experience. Sometimes it takes someone who is looking from the outside looking in to give us a fresh perspective and new energy.
The most valuable gift I have experienced from her mentoring has been her presence. Her mentoring has been an important constant when it seems that anymore change might be too much to handle. Even though we don’t live in the same state, I always know that she is there when I need it. She was there on the first day of my move. She has seen almost all of the ups and downs since then. Her presence has been one of the most calming things for me. She is there with an open ear. She lets me rant. She listens to my crazy stories, and sometimes that’s all I need. I know that her time is precious. In order to fully benefit, I have to truly listen to her, and be open to her advice. It doesn’t mean we have to have a full conversation. It can be just a text or email. It may be small, but it is something. It is a presence. When I am lucky enough to see her, I always come away feeling stronger and more prepared to take the next change that might come. In the midst of change, her consistency has helped me steady myself.
It’s these small but powerful experiences that have turned turmoil into triumph. This mentoring gives me the strength to face change head on and see it as a positive opportunity for growth. I know that no matter how change may try to me keep down, I have someone in my corner to help me stand up and find my way through.
This experience has taken mentoring from what has historically been a catch-all position for one person, and expanded into a team of support. I still have my mentor that I call when I don’t know how to handle a particular a work situation. I still have the mentor to help me navigate my career path in student affairs. And now, I have a mentor to help me find my way through those many life changes. I have a change management mentor. Mentors for different aspects of my personal and professional life give me a wider network, greater support, and a better chance for success.
Whether you are looking for a “Change Management Mentor” or realizing that you are one, take into consideration the gifts that you can give someone during a time of transition. This relationship has taken the inevitable and it turned into the exceptional. I hope that one day I can give someone the gifts that this mentoring has given me.
Submitted by Elizabeth Cox, Area Coordinator at The Catholic University of America