Mentoring, an opportunity to pay it forward

“Everybody here wears five hats, it’s a good way to get involved and be part of the community,” FRC Trustee John Sheehan told me one afternoon.

It was a beautiful day at Feather River College and we were chuckling because I’d seen his photo in the paper for a different gig — a living history cemetery tour in Taylorsville with historical figures played by local folks in period garb.

“That vest was pretty snazzy!” I said with compliments.

This cheerful attitude about community service is one of the many things that make our scenic region a jewel and a beautiful place in which to live.

This week, I was reminded about another valuable way to serve our communities: mentoring others.

Stacey Svilich with the college’s Advising and Counseling Office had invited me to join an interesting group of professionals to offer students insights about our careers in English, journalism, videography, solopreneur business ownership and writing novels.

Hot diggity! Thank you, Stacey.

I brought Capt. Joe with me because he’s a published writer and I knew he’d have some gems to share.

“But I’m a retired commercial fisherman,” he protested.

“Yes, and former president of United Fishermen of Alaska,” I replied. “And you’ve served on lots of boards. And you’re a business owner. And you’ve written for magazines. And … and you’re going with me!”

Folks, whenever you have the chance, I hope you wholeheartedly embrace opportunities to pay it forward in life and mentor someone along their journey. Your experiences and skills are a treasure to be mined. The things that went well are good to share. The things that went awry can be even more instructive, but you already know that.

No matter their age, those coming along after us are eager to know what helped us get to where we are. The light we can shed on the path is every bit as valuable, and sometimes more so, than what they will find on Google, YouTube and in textbooks.

Every student at the FRC career night meetup asked thoughtful questions and talked honestly about their goals and dreams. I really enjoyed hearing about the career areas that interest them. As with every generation, job titles I’ve never even conceived of are commonplace today, like data scientist.

What’s a data scientist? Well, Facebook and Twitter have thousands of them. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment.

Meanwhile back at my table, not everyone was on a laser-focused path to a six-figure future. Capt. Joe and I were impressed with their plans.

Folks, we are in good hands.

Now and then, “I don’t know,” came the shrug of a few, candidly expressing their temporary youthful limbo.

I told them that was OK, lots of people don’t have it all figured out when they first start out on their own. Heck, one of my friends even changed her college major six times before she settled on a field that she really cared about, environmental sciences. I think she began with photography. It’s all useful.

Joe majored in geology but followed his call for a life at sea. I’ve been a photojournalist for a long time. I said my big dream had been to become a psychologist, but I kept almost fainting in the animal lab at U.C. Berkeley, so I switched to studio art and journalism, took all of my electives in psych, and it changed the course of my life.

We were so busy looking at newspapers and talking about what journalists do, how they do it, and why it matters that for those who are still searching to find the field that lights them up, I forgot to tell them what one of my favorite instructors told me long ago in San Francisco.

Through patchy fog, soft sunlight was coming in off the ocean a few blocks away. We were sitting in lotus position on the gleaming hardwood floor of his home out in the Avenues, engaged in a meditation exercise about clarity and consciousness as part of my yoga-teacher certification studies (my other gig back then).

“Confusion is a very high state,” the master said. “You have nothing but options.”

Looking back over my own journey, I couldn’t agree more.

And I love what Durham University in the UK has to say about the positive benefits of mentoring others.

From us, they receive advice, encouragement, assistance with problem solving and help navigating their career paths. Done right, this happens within a supportive relationship that helps improve their self-confidence.

We, too, have a lot to gain from mentoring people, not just students but anyone who asks.

For us, it’s an opportunity to reflect on own career successes, practices and challenges.

Durham University researchers note that mentors often experience enhanced job satisfaction themselves and are recognized by their peers for making positive contributions.

Because you make your experience available to someone new, mentoring widens understanding of your own field and helps you develop additional professional relationships.

I don’t see any downside.

As the evening wound to a close in the Eagle’s Perch Café where FRC Chef Sean Conry and his amazing culinary arts students were serving a delicious dinner, another young lady sat down at my table, notebook and pen in hand.

I was taken with her sincerity and perceptiveness. As I handed out my business cards, I told the students I’m always looking for interns. Her eyes seemed to light up. Yes, please call me, I said. Ah, the future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.

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