Mentors light my path like lanterns
Mentors show up, and I don’t always recognize it. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate the people who reached out to help me. I was sure they were just interfering. Looking back from this happier place 2013, I reflect on opportunities I was too paralyzed with uncertainty and insecurity to accept. The list of people who offered is long. I wish I recalled their names, so I could thank them. It isn’t too late to benefit from their offers:
Belatedly, I acknowledge and thank those who could’ve made me a better person. The Vice-Principal at Melville Scott School encouraged me to enter a writing contest. I didn’t have the self-esteem or confidence, and then spent the rest of the year avoiding him. I could’ve been wrting my whole life if I’d accepted his help. Instead, I’m galloping to catch up. The track coach and the captain of the swim team tried to persuade me that I was athletic enough to join. I didn’t believe either of them. When I finally ran marathon distances in my 30s it felt fantastic. More missed time. A friend’s mom tried to convince me I’d be happier if I smiled more. I took it as a criticism and scowled for a week. I’m always smiling now and missed years of potential happiness.
The list of offers I accepted is considerably shorter.
However, I can accept the offers I get now. After almost two years on disability my role’s changed from recovering cancer patient to full time paid worker. My dream job and I grew apart while we were separated. So much changed. My teammates are now my mentors, retraining me for my job.
As a conflict manager, I’m okay with that ambiguity. After all, the answer to most questions about conflict is ‘It depends’. Wow. Sounds like understanding cancer.
As my wonderful and brilliant oncologist Danny truthfully said: “The answer to most questions about Triple Negative Breast Cancer is ‘I dunno’.” Wow. Sounds like me back at work. Even experts don’t have all the answers. I had so many mentors on my path to healing and I’m so grateful to them all. Because I sure don’t have any answers.
Returning to work was a similar feeling to the vulnerable and confused uncertainty of starting treatment. I crave a guide. I’m confounded about the ‘correct’ foods to eat or not eat, activities to do or not do. Eventually, the turbulence in my job and health will settle down, routines normalize, and uncertainties give way to competence. I’ll adapt.
In his book Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty, Robert Kanigel describes a mentorship chain that can account for the success of generations of people who encourage, generate and pass around knowledge.
When I look for ways to keep at bay the fear lurking in the unanswerable, I come up with gratitude about the twin blessings of wonderful mentors and of their prodding me to be more curious, more open, and more willing to accept help.
Now that I’m back managing conflict again, I remember that a mentor is as valuable to me as a great answer. My mentors are my guides, lighting my way.