I have been collecting mentors since my early 20's. I remember that first taste of being truly believed in, treated with compassion, and having a sense of belonging that came from my supervisor, Penny, at a data entry job I had back in Boston. Every day I showed up at work not believing in myself, which had been my default at the time. For the first several months, each time Penny walked into my little data entry office I felt a wave of panic that she was going to tell me I made a horrible mistake and was fired. Instead, Penny gave me a warm smile and said something simple like, "Hi, Melissa!" After a while, to my disbelief, she promoted me to a clinical interviewer position.
The experience with Penny was so transformative, I subsequently sought out people with Penny-like attributes whenever I applied for other jobs or academic appointments. I have been incredibly blessed by the mentors in my life, each of whom has played a large role my own healing and growth. Each of these people lives inside of me now and I can turn to them in my imagination when I feel stuck or forget to believe in myself.
Maya Angelou has been one of the people I would consider such a mentor. I have never met her, but her words hit home and cut through to a sense of goodness and belonging like I experienced with Penny.
In her book, "Letter to My Daughter," she writes, :"I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you."
This week's belonging reminder:
You can check out Maya Angelou's book, "Letter to My Daughter," by clicking "Look Inside," after following the Amazon link. You can read the entire short first chapter entitled "Home," within the preview. By the way, you don't need to a daughter or identify as female to benefit from the reading!
Here is Dr. Angelou with Oprah on "the best advice she's ever given." May Dr. Angelou's mentorship move you a smidge further toward knowing your own belonging.
This week's practice suggestions:
- If you have been fortunate to have a mentor like Penny, write about their attributes that make them a good mentor. For example, my mentor was consistent, warm, encouraging, and calm... If you haven't had a Penny in your life, write about the attributes you would give to your ideal mentor if you could create a mentor to be whomever you wanted them to be. Get as specific as possible, and imagine them in as much detail as you can. Then practice closing your eyes, and in your mind asking your mentor for advice with a specific situation.
- Pay attention this week to any unacknowledged mentors that might be in your life right now! It may come in the form of something a stranger says to you, an article you come across, or your own inner voice. Pay attention and allow yourself to be surprised!