The Surprising Benefits of Mentoring

Thinking about "giving back" or "paying it forward" as a mentor? There are likely benefits of mentoring you haven't considered. Here's what I've learned.

If you've thought about mentoring, there's no time like the present to start the process. There are still a few days left in January, which is National Mentoring Month. For me, this month also marks the eight-year anniversary of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

While I've been a mentor for a relatively long time, I was a would-be mentor for almost as long. It took me years of talking about (and talking myself out of) joining a youth mentorship program before I finally mustered the courage to apply.

The biggest hurdle for me was my schedule. Whenever the idea of volunteering as a mentor crept into my head, I'd always go back to this question: Where will I find the time? I let "busyness" become a barrier to giving back.

But one day – a particularly hectic day a year after I started freelancing ­–­ it finally dawned on me that my "I'm too busy" excuse was just that: an excuse. It was a lame, albeit convenient surface-level cover for my deeper worries: What if the child and I didn't share anything in common? What if it turned out I was horrible with kids? What if I somehow let the child down? What if he didn't like me?

I called myself out – and immediately called Big Brothers Big Sisters. Weeks later, I was introduced to a friendly 8-year-old boy. Little Bro and I spent our first meeting at a giant arcade, playing games and eating hamburgers and chocolate cake.

All of my concerns quickly dissolved. We had things in common (an interest in Skee-Ball, ground beef and oversized desserts, for instance). I liked him. He seemed to like me. Plus, I didn't lose him.

During the last eight years, I've attended dozens of Little Bro's games in various sports. We've been to many movies and had wide-ranging talks over pepperoni pizza. He's whooped me in every video game imaginable. But most importantly, our friendship – our brotherhood – has grown stronger and stronger.

I can't overstate the benefits of mentoring. Taking on the responsibility helped prepare me for parenthood. But it's also led to some valuable career-related revelations. For instance, being a Big Brother has taught me key lessons about work-life balance and time management. (You simply don't allow yourself to work late when there's a kid anxiously waiting to be picked up to go to Chuck E. Cheese's.)

Little Bro has also made me think more deeply about my work, my priorities and how I spend my time. Early on, many of our discussions involved what he wanted to be when he grew up and what I actually did for a living. I learned quickly that copywriting was not as exciting as being a running back or popsicle salesman. But frequently being asked about what I do ­­– and why I do it ­– forced me to ask those same questions of myself. At times, his queries prompted me to pursue assignments that were more meaningful, creative, or that would simply make for a good story.

And then there's the pride factor of mentoring. That "little" kid is now a high school honors student and standout basketball player. He's taller than me, operating a motor vehicle, exploring colleges and talking about getting a business degree.

My relationship with Little Bro has continually made me realize how quickly time flies. My advice: If you've ever considered volunteering to be a mentor – whether it's with an organization that supports local youth or through your company – do it today. Stop worrying about the "what ifs" and jump in. Again, it's still National Mentoring Month for a few more days.

Playing even a very small part in someone else's growth and success is rewarding on so many levels. And it's educational. You can rest assured that as much wisdom as you impart, your mentee will teach you more.

Related post: The Benefits of Pro Bono Work

Tags: Mentoring, Op-ed