mentors

Experimenting with Isolation

It started with a simple suggestion.

When I was teaching in Italy two summers ago, one of my host Dads suggested that I check into a nunnery.  Something told me this wasn’t a compliment.  I didn’t think spending all day with 8-year old Italian children had made me that wild, but who knows. Then he clarified,

“I recommend it for everyone. Silence can be good. We all need to be alone sometimes.”

Those words stuck. Not so much the nunnery part, but being alone. Up to that point, solitude had been a bit of a foreign concept. In college, I was pretty social and regarded as an extrovert. That summer too, I was constantly surrounded by people: at camp with students during the day, at home with my host family at night, and at various destinations with camp counselors on my travels in between. My sole alone time was before going to bed or in the shower . He’s right, I thought. I could use some alone time.

wpid-IMAG0096.jpg

This is what I imagine the solitary road to look like.

Since then, I’ve held an odd fascination with isolation. I’d dream of going on my own “Eat Pray Love” sabbatical. I found myself leaving a lot of social functions early to be alone. I arranged my current living space so I could spend a lot of time with myself.  I live with strangers who work long hours and are usually out of the apartment, so my space is my space and my time my time. It may sound strange, but I’m really comfortable with it. Spending nights holed in my room reading and writing, once uncommon for me, is now routine.

I still had never traveled alone. I tried several times that summer in Italy but somehow there was always something that got in the way (a last minute travel partner or cancelled trains)…I even ended up looking into nunneries but they were quite pricey and I couldn’t communicate with the nuns on the phone.

Then, two weekends ago, a $89 round-trip Amtrak deal to Montreal floated into my inbox. My first inclination was to share it with friends in New York to see if they wanted to join me on an adventure. But then I realized that this was my chance! This could be my “eat pray love”. My itinerary. My trip.

Selfishness ignited. Alone I went. 2 nights and a full day in Montreal, 18 hours on the train (9 hours each way), a little over 40 hours in Montreal, for a grand total of 60 hours in isolation. I was so EXCITED.

Of course, it wasn’t complete isolation. There were people around. I talked. People talked to me (sometimes in French). It wasn’t a silent retreat. The majority of my exchanges revolved awkwardly around my standalone nature.  This is a typical conversation when people saw me eating by myself:

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“Um, no. just me.”

“Are you visiting Montreal?”

“Yeah, for the weekend. Wanted to get away from New York.” (my way of signaling I wanted to end the conversation)

“Ohh, I see.”

At which point people would cautiously back away, assuming my boyfriend had just dumped me or I was a stressed out New Yorker on the brink of a meltdown, and that basically my life was in shambles. None of which was true, of course. Not entirely at least.

Most of the time, I kept to myself. The best part was the efficiency. By 4 pm Saturday, I had climbed Mont Royal, suffered near cardiac arrest waiting an hour in line for the city’s best poutin, embarrassed myself by bargaining at a Quebec designer’s fashion sale (note to self: it is not proper protocol to bargain outside of Asia), and consumed a half bottle of wine at a university cafe (judged by onlooking McGill University students studying for finals).

image

In drunken glory, I reached the peak of my trip when I trudged through two feet of snow to the top of Mont Royal, 200 meters above ground to the sight of a city blanketed in white. The awe and wonder lasted about 42 seconds. I didn’t have anyone to ooh and ah with. So, as I slid back down the slippery slope of the mountain, I wondered – ‘What next?” If I’d been traveling with others, we would be running behind schedule (which would have surely been frustrating) but that wasn’t the problem. This time, I didn’t know what to do. I had no one to share the beautiful sight with. What’s more is that it was nearing happy hour and I was far from happy. Somehow in a matter of minutes, I had fallen from my highest high at the top of Mont Royal to major depressive disorder.

I mustered the energy to enter a bar, order a beer, and make friends. Something told me the latter probably wouldn’t happen when I pulled out my phone and discovered free wi-fi.  “No, Lynne, no.” I connected anyway. 15 minutes later, I was entering my 8th completed cycle of the vicious Facebook-Instagram-Twitter -Gmail wheel, which is where the anti-social part of this saga begins. Few things I can say with certainty, but I say with the surest certainty that scrolling through your social media feeds while surrounded by real living human flesh is the quickest way to feel like the loneliest person in the world. I left the bar a complete mute.

image

My peaceful, solitary view from the train

I returned to my hostel cold and tired. Earlier in the day, a McGill University student had recommended a vintage nightclub. “Don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “You won’t feel awkward going by yourself. I’m sure you’ll make plenty of friends.” That I needed reassurance I could make friends was enough to convince me I didn’t want to go. By 11 pm, I was packed and ready to catch my train for the next day.

The train ride back was markedly different from the train there. Two days earlier, the excitement of my solo adventure flooded my thoughts as I undocked at Montreal’s Central Station. Anything was possible.  I dared myself to make a new friend, meet a guy at a bar, or go crazy wild. None of that happened. Maybe that says I’m anti-social, a hermit incapable of connection. (Okay, calm down Lynne. You’re just introverted and shy.) But after 60 hours of little meaningful social contact, my feeling of loneliness had escalated to the point where I truly believed I had no friends in the world.

So, what can be gleaned from this adventure in isolation? That I’m an extremely melodramatic individual, prone to depression and marred by rejection? That solo trips yield delusions? Yes and yes. But more important than that, once I gained my senses back, I learned that we are not meant for isolation – –  at least not for more than 24 hours. It’s not healthy. Also, social media does not make you more social. Shocking, I know. However, it does supplement many social activities nicely which is why I would never completely eliminate it if you want to stay connected to a larger group. It’s a tool to document memories and keep track of interactions. (Case in point: while writing this post, I turned to my Instagram photos and Foursquare check-ins as a way of remembering the chronology of events and places I went to on my trip. In just two weeks, I had forgotten a lot.)

My eagerness to be alone has taught me several things. One is that we are social beings, even the most introverted of us. We need external stimulation to prevent us from going insane. Another is that independence, while efficient and empowering, does not make the best memories. Yet I had to experience a taste of it, in the form of loneliness, to know how to appreciate others.  For so long, I’ve selfishly believed my time alone was immensely more valuable than time spent with other people. I wanted efficiency in personal interaction and while listening to people talk, I wondered why they couldn’t get to the point. “What are you trying to tell me? Do we really have to stand here and make small talk?” I now see that people who are willing to allow me to enter their lives, be it through small talk or deeper exchange, are doing me a favor.

Of course it’s a matter of balance; it is never ideal to hear someone ramble on and on about nothing. And we all need our space and time. But when you can find that perfect volume where you can tune into other people’s stations without overpowering the own thoughts in your head – that’s a sweet spot.

To say that we each have our own story is only partially true.  We do have our own story, but we are not always the main characters. Pilots need passengers to take off. Otherwise it’s just a flight and not an adventure.

Note to friends: this saga reveals a slightly maniacal side of me. I am aware that I have many dear friends (including some of you readers) and appreciate your love and concern if you were worried . I am fine (usually) 🙂

Advertisements

Confidence in the Face of Failure

Got really vulnerable, y’all.

Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Christina Vuleta, founder of 40:20 vision, a website that offers advice from 40something women who have been there, to 20something women (like me) who are trying to figure it out. Christina was a panelist at a 40:20 Highwater Women panel  where she, along with some other incredibly accomplished women, offered invaluable tidbits on how to navigate this thing called life. I feel extremely lucky to have made a connection with someone so willing to pass on her experiences and help the next generation weather through the rocky 20s.

I wrote a guest post for her site about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: failure. 

Read it, but if  you’re busy here’s the Cliff’s Notes version straight from the last two sentences:

Embrace failure as relentlessly as  you pursue success. One is not better than the other, as they both simply bring us closer to the goal.      

Elusively motivational?  That’s how I like it.

Also, I haven’t said this before but to all who actually read these meanderings, thank you. I don’t get to see your faces often but simply knowing that there are faces is encouraging. It’s what keeps me typing. 🙂


Fan Mail

I’m sure the title has you assuming all sorts of things, foremost being that I’m egotistical.

Which is probably true. But in all honesty, the only reason I’m publishing a particular letter I received is because it highlights a common dilemma facing millennials now. In the past year, I’ve crafted a number of responses to similar questions posed in the letter below. For my own clarity, I’ve consolidated my answers into a single post for the interest of anyone seeking life advice from an equally clueless (but well-meaning) 20something.

03/14/2012

Hey Lynne,

I don’t know if you remember me, but I feel like I have been following your life for a couple of years through your various blogs (creepy, maybe?) ever since I met you so long ago. I guess I just wanted to tell you that your writing and your life have amazed me as I’ve been following, the travels in Asia, and Europe, and now the adventures in New York. I have loved every single one of your blogs. 

I have a few questions if you don’t mind! How did you develop the courage and confidence in yourself to pursue your goals? Being a freshman, I feel as though the future is so daunting and I really have no idea what I’m doing with myself and what direction I’m trying to head in and I’m scared that I’m wasting precious time by not knowing. Also, how are you able to design concrete projects and goals from your passions and loves? 

I’d also love to collaborate with you on something one day, if you ever have a space in one of your projects for me in the future. 🙂 And one day I hope we can perhaps meet up for a great conversation over coffee, when I feel less like a child and whenever we may be able to cross paths one day.

But most of all, I’m just sending in some love and fanmail.

(SN: I think this blog could die happy knowing that in its short life, at least one person didn’t dismiss its babbles as useless. Thanks!)

My response:

03/15/2012

What a lovely surprise to read your message. It is my first piece of “fan mail”, though I would hardly say I constitute it. However, I do often wonder if I am writing for an audience greater than one (that being myself), so your letter is reassurance that I’m at least writing for two 🙂 Thanks for reading!
 
I’ll try my best to answer your questions but keep in mind that finding confidence and bliss is a never-ending process.  I graduated from college last year and was pretty all-over-the-place with what I wanted to do, though to many my future must have seemed a sure thing. I was a broadcast journalism major from start to finish and really involved w/internships, working at television stations, etc. Now I’m working on digital strategy for entrepreneurs in NYC. Some may say I’ve veered far from my college path. True – I’m not on the news. But people change, as well as the circumstances we’re called to. In reality, I don’t think I’ve veered terribly far. The skills I learned from college journalism are applied often in my job –  just not in the exact way I initially envisioned  – and that’s okay. You may or may not have heard, but your undergraduate major does not matter a whole lot after you graduate. What matters much more is your skill set.
 
Here’s my general advice:
Experiment. There is no other time in your life when you aren’t bound to bills, serious relationships, family, jobs, or illness than now. Now is the time for you to try everything under the sun that suits your fancy (though don’t get too crazy with the drugs and alcohol ). Tinker with shit. Talk to strangers – that’s one way to really develop confidence.
Most importantly, don’t think you’re wasting time.  Believe me, life works in funny ways. In some way or another, every random, seemingly useless thing you learn will be of use down the road. Even if not in a vocational sense, there’s no harm in learning something for the pure sake of edifying your mind. It just makes you a more interesting person which is actually a lot more important than having a practical use for every single thing.
 
As for developing concrete projects, think about what you want to improve in. Writing? Public speaking? Juggling? Drawing? Your answers should somewhat align with what you’re scared of. Design your projects in that line. The scarier, the better, and the more you’ll grow.
I’d also add that the best way to boost your confidence and pursue your goals is to break your gods. A friend once told me that the greatest advantage Ivy League students receive is not their education, but their elevated sense of worth (whether false or deserved). Being exposed to so many high-profile “smart” people from the time you enter school gates builds confidence. At first, seeing ‘celebrities’ makes you starry-eyed and useless. However, with increased exposure, you have no choice but to become acclimated and STOP GAWKING. You start seeing “gods” as real people. The ability to interact with another person as a human, not as a god, is a gift; it makes interactions more meaningful.  Ivy or not, learn to break your gods and spend time finding ways you can add value, apart from the hype. Confidence will then come naturally.
Finally, I’d add one more thing:
Never take anyone’s advice too seriously.

Women Helping Women: The Levo League

Fairy godmothers do exist. Just meet the women at The Levo League, who are helping Gen-Y women define and achieve their dreams with a sprinkle of what they call ‘Levo Love.’

It is difficult to contain my excitement as I write about this thing called ‘Levo Love.’ Being a Gen-Y woman myself, I am grateful for the plethora of opportunities available to me today, and I reckon the majority of modern-day educated women agree. We are not interested in whining about the plight of gender inequality. The Levo League understands, which is why they stand at a unique position to tackle a new set of dilemmas facing ambitious women today.

Emphasis lies on the the word ambitious, for ambition these days can serve as a double-edged sword. While it allows women to advance further, how often does it also conjure images of suited-up, back-stabbing slave drivers who, by way of coercion, cattiness, and (dare I say?) canoodling, work their way to the top? Devil Wears Prada, anyone?

This cutthroat mentality is not quite what I get as I chat over coffee and delicious yogurt parfait with The Levo League co-founders Amanda Pouchot, 26, and Caroline Ghosn, 25, near their New York office. Pouchot giggles while she reads aloud quotes from her newly-madeTumblr. Meanwhile, Ghosn earnestly exclaims, “How cool is it that our new office is right across from the movie theater?!”

Both exude energy from the carefree California coast where they attended college. While Pouchot was heavily involved as a student leader at UC Berkeley with Panhellenic Council and academic organizations, Ghosn found her passion in social entrepreneurship and begged to take classes at the Stanford Design School (usually limited to graduate students) while she was a Stanford undergraduate.

Their paths crossed shortly after they graduated in November 2008. At their first day of training at McKinsey Consulting, they were the only two women straight out of college in a group of 30.

“I didn’t speak at our first meeting,” Pouchot said. “I was so intimidated.”

The two women gravitated toward each other and soon became each other’s support system. In the competitive male-dominated work atmosphere, they were limited in who they could reach out to for advice, so they started brainstorming ideas for a platform where women could find support. The Levo League was born.

“We wanted to create a platform that democratized mentorship so that women could have opportunities to meet established, successful women and receive advice,” Pouchot said. “Ultimately it was about Gen-Y women [us] building something for other Gen-Y women.”

Since its launch on March 20, The Levo League has created a multimedia website some would liken to a LinkedIn for women. It certainly helps that they have backers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on their side.

But The Levo League’s beautiful ‘virtual corner office’ interface does more than just connect. With the modern office as your ‘home page,’ you can navigate to various sections, including a job search and company database, unique content on young professional lifestyle issues, and a ‘file folder’ stacked with career advice.

Click on the cozy-looking couch and you’re led to one of their most popular programs to date, “Office Hours,” which facilitates a series of live video chats with some of the most powerful women. Speakers so far have ranged from Gilt Groupe chairwoman Susan Lyne toFoodspotting co-founder Soraya Darabi. With a strong foundation in technology, questions to the women can be posed directly on the website or through tweeting and texting. “Office Hours” speakers resonate powerfully with The Levo League’s members.

Maghan McDowell, a magazine editor from Gainesville, Florida, is one of them.

“It is an incredible chance to learn from amazing real women that leave me wondering, ‘Is this real life?’” McDowell said.”It makes them seem more real, and it’s very inspirational. If they can do it, then why can’t I?”

That is what co-founder Ghosn likes to hear. One of her favorite quotes is the famous Jonathan Winters saying: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim to it.”

She modified the quote saying, “Screw that, you don’t need a ship… just start swimming. You can swim toward an undefined goal, and you’ll figure it out as you swim.”

Levo, derived from the Latin root for ‘elevate,’ also aims to provide an upward financial trajectory for women, which is why the group is raising awareness about Equal Pay Day on April 17. On average, women make just 75 cents for every dollar their male counterparts makes.

“We want women to not be afraid to ask for more,” Pouchot said.

As The Levo League grows, more features are set to launch. One of them is The Levo Lounge, a conversation platform where members can message established women professionals on the network to individually connect for mentorship. Eventually, members will vote on “Office Hours” speakers in different fields. For now, anyone interested in becoming a member cansign up by submitting an ‘elevator pitch’ that describes her aspirations. Membership is capped at 10,000 for the month to enhance the experience for current users.

“Our short-term goal is to make these 10,000 women very happy,” Ghosn said. “Then we can focus on our long-term goal of becoming a generation-defining platform.”

Ultimately, it goes back to the simple Levo philosophy of women helping women.

“Our generation’s success will depend on individual successes, and the only way you can get those individual successes is to have a support network, a group that lifts you up,” Pouchot said.

Ladies, start showing some Levo Love. It’s a term you’re going to be hearing often very soon.

—————

If you are a career woman and interested in The Levo League, sign up here and watch theintroduction video so you understand what I mean when I say ‘Levo Love’ will be stuck in your head.


Friend Crushes

“Nothing of me is original. I am a combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

Though this tramps rudely on my artfully formed identity, it does remove some of the pressure.  I am a skilled shopaholic only because my middle school friends would berate people who left the mall empty-handed. (Thus, my impressive amount of debt now can only be attributed to them.)  I am quick with “that’s what she said” jokes (if those can be even considered jokes anymore) only because my college roommates and I flung them around all senior year.  I am a terrible bowler because…well, who cares about bowling anyway. No one I know likes it, so I don’t need to.

We can use this reasoning to deflect individual responsibility for character deficits, or things we’re ignorant about.  On the same token, we can’t take credit for our seemingly original insights. If I am a mere mishmash of the people in my life, my character is really just a representation of my taste.  To that end, I try to surround myself with people I strive to be like.

Author Courtney Martin used the term ‘friend crushes’ in her latest piece about being your own mentor in a freelance economy.  Since freelancers don’t have an easy structure to guide their work flow or career path, they must learn how to hold themself accountable to personalized goals and deadlines.  This involves seeking ‘friend crushes’:

Sometimes you have to go after a collaborator or a work gig. I’m not big on “networking”—at least the version of it talked about in women’s magazines and at some alienating conferences. But I do believe in “friend crushes.” If someone does particularly awesome work, or has a way of looking at the world I find really unique, I will go out of my way to get to know them. It’s never with a set goal in mind, but more with the faith that putting a bunch of amazing people in my orbit will guarantee cool opportunities arising down the line. 

It’s an interesting balance of individual initiative and creative collaboration, something which will become an increasingly important skill to cultivate as our world becomes less streamlined.

One of my biggest friend crushes is Joanna Galaris, a cultural chameleon who’s lived in 8 countries.  By some stroke of luck I selected her as my mentee in a college organization.  The tables have since turned and she’s now more like my mentor. Though she is just a junior in college, I think she has a much more solid grasp on the purpose of college than most people.  Here’s something she wrote recently on her blog:

In college, we are constantly bombarded with people telling us that we must follow certain academic tracks and what the complementary internships and volunteer experiences to those tracks are and that our GPA is somehow related to our self-worth. I think this is nonsense. I would like you to un-learn that information. Yes, what you study in college, particularly if you are a STEM student, will probably determine the job you get paid for at first. But there are unlimited possibilities to expand your knowledge and your skill set so that you can be competent in many fields. I am a passionate Anthropology student but I have no intention of being an Anthropologist for the rest of my life. I do hope that I will get the opportunity to do public health research in Eastern and Western Africa and find incredibly creative ways to work within local health cultures to implement public health campaigns in under-developed areas. I do want to be a medical anthropologist. But I also want to be a carpenter, a musician and a writer. I want to speak French, Swahili and Arabic fluently and improve my command of the English language. I want to better my public speaking skills and learn more about where my food comes from. And I am 100% confident that I will be successful in all of these things. 

Of course, this raises the age-old question of whether it is better to be a jack of all trades or an expert in one subject. There is value to both focus and well-roundedness.  Regardless, she touches on a fundamental component of college that is too often failing to be ignited – curiosity. 

Many have criticized American universities for becoming overly social, a wasteland of drinking escapades and drunken epiphanies. That is true, but social is not always bad. For some, the classroom is too formalized and contained for curiosity to flow.  Learning thrives instead among candid discussion with peers.  This does occur in the classroom, but personally I am more comfortable discussing serious topics among a trusted group of friends who won’t judge my oversight or lack of knowledge in a topic.  This is why I think the concept of ‘friend crushes’ cannot be underestimated. Joanna, again:

Most of us in college right now are frustrated with the quality of education that we are receiving because we are failing to personalize our college experience. If you hate being in college and you can’t wait to graduate then it’s probably your own fault. If you are studying something that does not interest you and aren’t stimulated by the classes you are taking, then change your major. If you’re failing in your area of study and your classes make you feel dumb or incompetent then you’re probably in the wrong field. You are neither dumb nor incompetent. Dedicate the majority of your time here to something that you think you’ll be excellent at. It will make you happy and make it easier to tackle the harder stuff.

For those who don’t know what they’re good at or what makes them happy, fear not. That’s what life is for. College is just one of those unique social environments for you to experiment and ignite that curiosity alongside others who are also trying to figure it out. It will come easier when you’re exposed to those ‘friend crushes’ who you admire, perhaps cooler than you, but eager to share a bit of their insight with you, and vice-versa.

My social life is one of my top priorities because I surround myself with people that are talented and have skills that I don’t have. When I spend time with my friends, I am learning from them. I am taking in who they are and absorbing all of the things that I love about them and taking notes. Having lunch with a friend can be just as inspiring as sitting through a great class taught by a brilliant professor. 

My life mantra is ‘everyone has a story’. Everyone can teach you something. So don’t be afraid to seek out those friend crushes and spend time discussing and honing the skills that will make you successful together.

How can you not have a crush on her when she takes you around the Greek islands? 

Aegina, Greece, August 2011


Lesson # 4 -Pick yourself.

I’ve pestered my family and close friends this week with a series of questions about mentorship.

What mentors have you had in the past, if any? How have they helped you?  What would your ideal mentoring relationship be?

I got to thinking about this while researching tech and social entrepreneurship incubators. There was a noticeable trend with the most popular and successful ones like Y-Combinator and The Unreasonable Institute (success arbitrarily determined by yours truly through amount of capital, impact of the companies/entrepreneurs, and general image).  Aside from having the common ability to raise a large amount of funding and form relationships with influential investors, they were all mentorship-focused.

By matching seasoned professionals with budding entrepreneurs, passion and talent are guided in the right direction with business acumen and a wider network of connections, allowing great ideas to be catapulted into life-changing results.

Entrepreneur or not, everyone has mentors. Or so I thought.  It all depends on how you define ‘mentor’. Here are some responses from family and friends on the topic.

Some are expected-

In an ideal mentor I usually look for experience…he/she should possibly have lived in first person what I’m going through in a specific moment. They should be someone that really believes in what they are doing, with all their heart, and that manages to show me their values not only with words but with their good example.

Motivational:

I think the most pressing thing you could ever ask one (a mentor) is not why did you do it…but how did you BRING yourself to? It’s so easy to go along and get swept away, but a truly valuable mentor would be able to show a protege, or at least inspire a protege towards, the way to find their own path…I like to think I know what choice I’ll make, but there’s always a nagging doubt, because I haven’t passed that moment yet–will I have what it takes? I think the most important thing a mentor could do…would be to show the protege that yes, when the time comes, they’ll have what it takes.

Helpful:
I’ve personally benefited from mentors myself so I believe in its power. I can guarantee you, there is absolutely no way I would have gotten my job without their help. I didn’t have the right attitude nor the networking know-how. I didn’t even know what to ask. So they straight up told me what I was supposed to do. They aren’t lifetime mentors, but they helped me get to the next stage.” 
“He (mentor) always gives me his input as his advice only and so at the end of the day, it’s my decision to make.  He’s always told me to make my own decisions and live with it.  I haven’t followed all of his advice, I do live with my decisions, and (he) is not pleased nor displeased on whatever decision I make.  “
Personal:
Though there are many famous people I respect, the people I admire most are the ones I love. It is those people in my life, that I believe push me to be my very best and help me dream of things that never were…My dream mentor would embody the beautiful qualities of the people I love and respect.
Honest:

“I’ve signed up for “mentorship programs” in school with little success. A mentorship has to feel genuine and natural for it to work…But I think I have a million mentors, really. I get help and guidance from fellow travelers, from friends, from teachers, from professionals, from Facebook folks, from blog readers. When I’m looking for some inspiration and guidance, I like to watch TED talks, commencement speeches…” 

Academic:

“For new things and ideas, whoever is one step ahead or one day ahead or one idea ahead can be a mentor in disguise…A solid foundation in critical thinking, a basic college education and an inquiring mind are necessary for a meaningful mentorship.”

Skeptical:

Over time what I am interested in is wisdom, not necessarily someone’s success story or statistical impact with their products…I think wisdom can be absorbed, but skills/tactics/examples are merely entertaining….I think the best mentors are good books that are full of wisdom, and a good amount of self-reflection. I think it’s unrealistic to rely on another person to mentor you through your own problems, and would be cautious of anyone readily offering advice. But it does seem clear that most wise people have suggested the same: learn from the greats (books), and learn through your own experience.

Clearly a wide view of what constitutes ‘mentoring’.  As for myself, I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors, though I haven’t always called them by the name.

My first mentors were my older sisters, Emily and Wendy.  They remain to this day a strong influence, though their advice was probably more helpful during my pre-college and early college days when we were growing up together. Still, I cannot think of any major life decision I’ve made where I haven’t gone to them for advice and benefited. I will continue to do so for their honesty. Their 6 and 7-year edge in experience, plus familiarity with my youthful idealism, also allows them to be quickly alerted to aspects of a decision I may not consider.  (that’s what knowing someone for 22 years does!) For that, I’m thankful yet also aware that these familial relationships are unique and not easily replicated in the ‘professional’ part of the world.

Some mentorships are more formalized, and I’ve found this in Dr. Mona Khanna.  She was assigned my official journalism mentor through Asian American Journalists Association when I covered the convention as a reporter. Since then, we’ve kept in regular contact.  She has served as an invaluable asset in terms of connections, networking strategy, and tightening my appearance for broadcast.  While that world may no longer be the life I’m seeking, the lessons she’s taught me in professionalism will be of use wherever I land. Case in point: just yesterday, she gave me quick pointers on email etiquette with my last job-related email…

On the creative exploratory side, there’s Quang (far left, at our launch of GamedayTap.  He’s an extremely under-the-radar person. This is the only relevant photo of him that I could find despite a huge online presence).  The interest I show in entrepreneurship, tech, startups, social media, and multimedia I owe largely to him.  This blog? All his urging. Our relationship began with a serendipitous meeting my freshman year of college, followed by me asking a couple questions about his projects, which led to him actively nudging me to experiment with blogging and tweeting before they became everyone’s favorite outlet.  We built CampusTweet.TV together, the biggest lesson for me in website and community building. This was followed by GamedayTap, an online stream all about the Gator tailgate experience which pushed me into the realm of sports and fun feature roles I would have never explored on my own. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from him.  He’s pushed me to experiment and fail which is still something I’m trying to actively practice- I hope he will continue to help nudge me in that direction.  (I even had to create a separate folder in my inbox dedicated to hundreds of articles and insights of wisdom he’s sent me- the quantity and quality require it.)

There are also people here and there who offer great insight into life, writing, or human nature. These gems- friends like blogger and storyteller Steve Spalding, warm and talented journalist Carrie Porter, my fun-loving Cicerones mentor Reed Daines, or even my pragmatic Andy Rooney of a father- offer perspective at the most unexpected yet treasured moments.  It is not so much their roles as friends or ‘mentors’ but those substantive statements that are simply a part of who they are, that provide direction and wisdom.

On this same vein, being in New York has allowed me to pick the brains of many talented individuals. Though these exchanges are brief, I consider the experiences to be little nuggets of a developing mentorship as well.  I’m beyond thankful to have developed a relationship with someone I’ve been reading about for some time, Amber Rae (marketing maven and a digital evangelist)- even happier to be given opportunities to work directly with her.  There’s nothing better than working with someone you deeply respect and charging forward on a path (uncertain as it is) for something you know will be worthwhile.

So, yes, these key players plus my parents have been instrumental to my being. But I am cautious about over-relying on the formal ‘mentoring’ title.  Most of the time, it’s simply about perspective. Many of the people I referred to don’t even know they’re my mentor and might even be surprised to see their mention in this post. I simply take their advice and our conversations and treat them as something to learn from.  Heck, I can find mentorship in a quote.  Support can be found in anything, not necessarily in formal titles or professional organizations.  Lastly, I will say that the small doses of inspiration I receive from close friends add a value to my life which is difficult to quantify.  Though we are not in the same city, our email threads are in constant exchange. I dearly love these girls for their friendship and the genuine advice they offer cannot be replaced by any professionally “useful” relationship.

——————

So I rest on this final note: as great as it would be for each of us to have personal mentors that act as guardian angels, it’s not a necessity. It may not even be what’s best. Seth Godin sums it well:

One easy way to hide from the responsibility of making a difference is by using the excuse that you don’t have a good enough mentor. It’s nonsense.

…I’ve had at least a dozen people make that sort of difference in my life, but none of them were famous and none of them are the kinds of mentors you see in the movies. More often than not it’s a single quiet conversation, or a standard that sticks.”

It’s not so much mentors that we need, though if you have one, treasure him/her/it (book, quote, pet, whatever). Ultimately it’s just about knowing yourself and doing what it takes to put yourself in an environment where you can be your best.  It might just be a matter of surrounding yourself with people or practices that won’t allow you to be anything less (and deeming them mentors in your own mind).