Recently I’ve found myself in a bit of a new position for me – that of the student affairs mentor. There are a few new professionals who for one reason or another have connected with me and sought me out for either short-term or long-term mentoring. I was with a friend recently when one of these professionals messaged me, and I expressed some of my shock at this. After all, I consider myself still finding my way when it comes to a lot of things within student affairs – not to mention my professional career. How can I possibly be ready to be a mentor for someone else? What my friend pointed out has had me thinking for the last week about what our new professionals want/need when it comes to a mentor.
Here’s the reality – they need someone who’s not going to bullshit them. They need someone who will shoot straight about what it means to be a student affairs professional. Sure, there are some sunshine and rainbows in our profession, but there are also some storm clouds, and there sure aren’t any unicorns.
Some of you may think I’m a Negative Nelly, and maybe I am, but I believe that we should be honest about our profession. First of all, if we were more honest about the fact that our profession isn’t just all the fun parts of working with students, we might have less turnover as people leave the field once they discover the truth. We might have less burnout, too, as our new professionals would have a more accurate perception of what to expect and adjust their expectations and working styles accordingly.
We can support from a place of honesty, and we need to learn to do this more often. Imagine feeling like you’re the only one in the field that doesn’t feel like it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Wouldn’t you want to leave, too? I’ve certainly felt this way a time or two in my career lifetime. It was only after I started sharing my honest thoughts about my frustrations that I realized I wasn’t the only one, that it was normal to feel irritated sometimes and not be totally enamored with everything student affairs. So when new professionals start reaching out to me, I know that much of it is because they know they are going to get honest answer from me about what lies ahead.
Mentoring isn’t just about support, it’s about preparation and knowledge-sharing. If we’re constantly sugar-coating our career field, we’re being unfair to grad students and new professionals – not to mention ourselves. How are you being honest in your mentoring? How are you seeking mentors who are honest?