The Meaning of Mentorship in All Facets of Life
Creating strong and resilient communities through mentorship is about more than just checking a box
January 5, 2021
Mentorship has always been an essential part of what it means to be human. It’s how we pass down knowledge from one generation to another. At its core, it’s an expression of love.
But it’s often too easy to get caught up in the numbers: how many people did you train? How many hours did you spend? How many pieces of advice did you give, or how many of your mentees went on to study the topic in college?
If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we need to rethink checking the boxes just to check them. We need to move back to why we do the things we do, and what it actually means at a human level.
It’s an approach that Ashley Trick, Capital One’s Community Impact & Investment Engagement Strategist, has been thinking a lot about lately. “We have really had to shift an intentional narrative to think exclusively about depth of impact and what that looks like in the community,” she says. She’s been doing this by focusing her efforts in a number of innovative and impactful ways.
Meeting People at Critical Points
Trick helps to organize the Capital One Coders program where each year, around 1,000 Capital One tech associates volunteer to mentor middle school students to help in otherwise-mystifying tech fields. Students learn how to decipher coding languages on their own, and how to develop age-appropriate and fun apps. The fact that Capital One volunteers focus on mentoring very young people in such a complex area isn’t an accident.
For things like this, “it has to start as early as possible. Because when you're starting to get people to think about it in high school or even major in it in college, to a certain extent you've missed the mark,” says Trick. “Mentoring is about reaching students at that critical age in their development to think through all of the possibilities in life.”
It’s especially important to help young students from underrepresented groups see a place for themselves in the tech industry, says Trick. “We want them to be excited about taking a computer science class, having a changed and improved attitude about the tech industry, and ensure they're not other-ing themselves in this topic area.”
Given that the tech industry has long had diversity problems that haven’t improved over time, this is an especially impactful point. By focusing on training people who are underrepresented in tech we can help to ensure that at least in the upcoming years, no one’s voice will be unheard in this growing field.
Making a Long-Term Commitment
"A lot of times, when we think about volunteering with individuals or communities, we talk about kind of one-off opportunities, and that's needed in many ways,” says Trick. For example, Capital One’s HR Heart program focuses on a high-value, but shorter-term commitment, in helping job seekers prepare for a career through resume building, mock interviews, and headshots.
But for students, the opportunity for the greatest impact lies in the long haul. “Lasting community change and impact happens when you make a long-term investment," she says. In other words, for students, it’s important to encourage long-term growth and learning via mentorship – whether the mentorship supports professional or personal goals. This ‘long-term growth’ mindset helps set up people from all walks of life, knowing there are inevitable roadblocks that add up cumulatively over time.
That’s why mentorship is valuable for the entire journey. Committing to mentorship, whether you’re a mentee or a mentor, helps change your perception about what you’re capable of, and who you see yourself becoming along the way. And that doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s perfectly okay to have one or many mentors – it’s about what’s right for you in any given phase of your life.
It’s hard, and it’s challenging, but it’s also one of the most rewarding facets of mentorship. “Making that commitment and seeing it through from start to finish is such a profound way to show up and influence somebody's life,” she says.
Establishing a Personal Connection
“I think one of the greatest traits of a mentor — and it sounds silly — is being present.”
We all get caught up in today’s busy world. How many times have you mentally checked out of a conversation to start drafting your grocery list, after all? But when you’re working to potentially change the trajectory of another person’s life for the better, it’s an investment in them and their community and it requires real presence.
This is especially important given the inherent awkwardness of some of the mentor/mentee relationships, in the early stages of the relationship. Without a baseline level of trust, it’s hard to let your guard down as a mentee to ask questions that might make you sound silly, or to ask difficult questions like how to overcome adversity.
But more importantly, says Trick, making a personal connection with mentees makes mentors seem real. “It helps almost take you off a pedestal of unachievable opportunities in their lives, and helps ground you in their own understanding of what they can be.”