Julie de Azevedo Hanks, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, helps identify what to look for a female mentor.
Do you ever look at other women's strengths, personally and professionally, and compare yourself? Does this comparison leave you feeling "not good enough" and filled with self-doubt? Instead of viewing other women's strengths through a competitive lens, try shifting to a more collaborative approach. A collaborative approach means seeing other women as allies, as sources of inspiration. If someone has a talent or strength you'd like to develop, see them as a mentor and seek to learn what they know. "Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction" (John C. Crosby).
Mentors fall into 2 basic categories, personal and professional. One of my personal mentors, Sara, is now 90 years old. Over 17 years ago we became neighbors and friends when I was struck by her energy, the light in her eyes, and her genuine compassion and concern for her family and her neighbors. As I learned about more about Sara's life history, I wondered how years of marital and family hardships had softened her when similar circumstances could have easily left her hardened and bitter. I decided then that I wanted to learn everything I could from my friend and mentor, Sara, so I could develop more love and joy in my soul, even amid hardship, and learn to thrive in my later years. I wanted to be like her when I "grew up". Filled with the wisdom of years of experience, she knew something that I wanted to learn.
What to look for in a mentor:
Acquires Wisdom Through Experience
Look for a mentor who has knowledge that you desire, but also has wisdom, which is the ability to apply that knowledge in real life situations. Search for someone with life experience, someone whose hindsight can become your foresight. For example, if you notice a mother in your neighborhood who has the kind of strong and open relationship with her teenagers that you hope to have with your children when they are teens, ask her questions about her parenting skills, find out how she has created a positive relationship with her children. Ask her to mentor you!
Inspires Greatness In Others By Example
Find a mentor who "walks the walk" not just "talks the talk", and inspires others around her to do the same. There is nothing more inspiring that seeing someone doing what they love. Whether it's dancing, or parenting, or teaching, or running, or fixing a car, an excellent mentor inspires those around her to pursue their own passions. Seek a mentor with the important personal qualities of empathy and listening skills to encourage and guide you toward your development. When I hear my mentor Sara talking about her grandchildren's accomplishments with such delight, I want to be a better mother.
Aspires To Teach And Train
A good mentor values the mentoring relationship and feels personally satisfied when they share what they have learned with you. Often, a strong mentor has had a relationship with mentor of their own and knows recognizes and understands the importance of it in their personal or professional development. They attribute their goal achievement to others who have trained them and cheered them on. In some cases, the best mentors are those who didn't have a mentor to look up to and they are passionate about providing for others the kind of mentoring relationship they wished they'd had.
Admires Your Strengths
"A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself" says Oprah Winfrey. Mentors see your potential and do what they can to foster it. They can see your gifts and talents, sometimes more clearly than you can. I remember my Grandmother, a professional singer, requesting that I sing her favorite song over and over again when I was an adolescent. Though she'd heard the song countless times saw and celebrated my musical talent, which in turn, helped me to see it in myself.
Desires Your Success
A mentor's commitment to your desires and goals is crucial. Almost 2 decades ago, when I was expecting my first child, my mom's friend gave me a portable play pen as a baby shower gift so I would have a place for my baby to play while I studied. She had successfully pursued a graduate degree while being a parent and her gift symbolized her belief in me and in my ability to continue my educational goals. Not only do mentors desire your success, but like a good parent, they want you to become independent and eventually not need them in order to achieve success.
In my quest to develop personal qualities, like my mentor Sara, of love and compassion for others and to be full of energy throughout my life, I wrote a song for her. Here are some lyrics from "Sara's Song":
Sara the road you've walked has not been soft
It hasn't made you hard
Your skin is thin and lined
A gift from time
But Sara your eyes are like the stars
Sara the 80 years that brought you here
They could have weighed you down
But your step is still so light
Your future bright
And Sara your years are your crown…
If this is what a life of love can do
Sign me up Sara sign me up
If this is what a life of love can do
Sign me up
Oh when I grow up I want to be like you…
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, specializes in psychotherapy with women and couples. She is passionate about women's self-care and emotional health and frequently presents workshops to women's groups around the country.