Who has influenced you? How do you pass it on?
Eric Liu, Seattle author of “Guiding Lights: How to Mentor and Find Life’s Purpose”, started a recent panel discussion on mentorship with these two questions. I was participating on the panel as a “mentor”. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) as part of their training for participants in their Community Leadership Program. I have learned from Eric that these two seemingly simple questions are extremely powerful.
Although I was part of the panel as an example of a “mentor”, I was uncomfortable being on the panel for a few reasons. First, I was sitting next to Eric Liu, who has written books on mentorship and has my utmost respect for his insightful and meaningful work. Second, being a mentor implies that you’re old or at best, middle-aged. My last and eccentric reason: I dislike fancy titles and terms.
For example, I’m perplexed by terms such as “life coaches”. You’re not a coach if you don’t coach an activity that records wins and losses or has winners and losers. Maybe life coaches should be called “life counselors”. But then I am also perplexed by “marriage counselors.” Perhaps they should be called “marriage coaches”. But I suspect they don’t want to be considered a “coach”, because if your win-loss record is about 50 percent, you’re not a very good coach.
The term “mentorship” seems too big for the act of simply helping people.
But I’ll put my personal resistance to “mentor” aside, because mentorship is an important activity that needs more attention.
In my 20s and 30s, I didn’t give much thought to mentoring. When I was being mentored by John Turnbull, Bob Santos, Gil Hirabayashi and Sue Taoka there was no overt use of the word and it was not a part of my vocabulary. But they helped guide a desire to help my community and the people who are a part of it. Community development and the preservation of historic neighborhoods, such as the International District, rely on the mentorship of people who will continue to do the work.
As I moved along in my career, I discovered that I had to be very intentional about helping young people and engaging them in community activities and issues as mentors had done for me. Somewhere in time, that led me to become more often a mentor and less a mentee.
Mentorship also applies to all aspects of life and should have a place within your own. Mentorship directly helps people, and in my opinion, makes lives better and brings more peace to the world.
Mentorship is complex and simple at the same time. It occurs at many different levels. Mentoring can be hiring a young person, tutoring kids, or giving advice to friends. I like the simple description that mentoring is helping people find their place and who doesn’t need that? Hence, everybody has an opportunity to be a mentee and a mentor in their life.
As for me, I already answered the first of two questions earlier — who has influenced me? Now, how do I pass it on? Unintentionally, I started doing it years ago by just helping people and the community. More intentionally now, I do things such as write this column for the IE.
In the International District and greater community, we are fortunate to have an organization like ACLF focused on nurturing leadership and mentoring. As with the panel discussion on mentorship, participants in the Community Leadership Program get an opportunity to meet inspiring people like Eric Liu. If you are interested in what ACLF can offer you, please visit their website at www.aclfnorthwest.org.
Mentorship is as simple as helping others. However, you and those you will mentor can have a more profound journey if you answer these two questions: Who has influenced you? How do you pass it on?