“Who am I?” What is the meaning and purpose of my life?”
Anyone who has moved alongside adolescents will appreciate that these are just two of the many questions, albeit key questions they are asking during their journey to become a young adult and then an adult.
Last week, as I undertook my daily eight kilometer walk, which includes a beautiful stretch of beach (see photo below), the tide was low and there were many people exercising and enjoying the beauty of the morning. An appropriate time for some mentoring reflections.
Footprints in the sand
Some of my observations while walking included how unique we are, and how we each walk at our own pace.
Footprints were different shapes, sizes, depths, and angles. Some walkers were barefoot and there were also a variety of dog paw sizes scattered among the footprints!
I spent time looking at those on the beach:
- some, like me, were walking briskly and with purpose on their own;
- some, mostly older people, also walked with purpose, though were in small groups often chatting animatedly – interesting too how there were gender specific groups within the larger group;
- some jogged; others paused to and pick up shells, or drank a cup of tea or coffee purchased from a nearby cafe, or brought from home in a special cup; a few carried bottled water;
- a few talked on mobile phones, some gesticulating as they shared a thought, or were deeply absorbed in a conversation (body language was interesting), while a couple of people took photos of the beautiful scene with their phones;
- some paused to chat to friends. These were mostly locals, as I greet them with a “hi!” and smile most days. They talk about life, local experiences, the weather or their dogs;
- many wore wearing glasses or dark glasses, hats or caps to protect them from the summer sun;
- some walk with purpose and never greet me – their choice.
Come to think of it, this daily walk is an amazing experience which I never take for granted. The weather is never the same. Every wave is unique, never to be seen again. As the waves roll up onto the shore, they create different patterns never to be repeated.
I am reminded that every person on the beach that morning is unique and has their own life story.
Has their life been an amazing adventure, or do they regard their life experiences as pretty ordinary? Have they ever suffered the disappointment of losing a job, or a significant business deal, or a loved one unexpectedly, or experienced a broken relationship? How many countries have they lived in during their lives? What careers do and have these people experienced?
Have they possibly enjoyed the highs and lows of taking calculated, innovative and creative risks embraced by an entrepreneurial spirit? What were the results?
Are any of them a victim of abuse? Are any or them abusers or people with bullying tendencies? Do any have alcohol, drug or some other mental health issues they are grappling with – perhaps some antisocial behaviors? So many questions. I wonder how they would respond if I asked them: “What is the most important issue you are dealing with today?”
Five mentoring lessons
I know that any youth I mentor bring their personal story to our relationship. I must empathize and do my best to try and understand their journey in my role as the wise guide on the side.
I must continually remind myself that every mentee is a unique person with gifts, talents and strengths to be identified, nurtured and encouraged – and each person walks ( or jogs) at their own pace.
There are many mentoring lessons I can draw from this beach walk. Let me suggest five key mentoring lessons to encourage anyone guiding youth – parents, teachers, youth workers, coaches, volunteer adult mentors. Indeed, we might conclude that these lessons can be adapted to any mentoring relationship.
- Positive and meaningful face-to-face relationships are critically important during our self-learning and self-discovery journey. The mentor as the non-judgmental cheerleader can transform lives.
- A positive attitude. An authentic mentor who smiles through their eyes, has a great sense of humor, and displays compassion and care is respected and valued by their mentee.
- Life is about our choices. Help a mentee to appreciate that they are unique and their choices will probably define their future. As mentees develop positive and trusting relationships with their mentors, they become more vulnerable, feel safer and more secure. Communication moves to a deeper level.
- Networks are important. Help a mentee develop positive networks to support, encourage and guide them as they seek to fulfill their potential, and find meaning and purpose to their lives.
- Promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle which includes consistent sleep (at least nine hours every night for adolescents), regular exercise, a healthy diet and becoming responsible stewards of the environment.
Yesterday, while walking along the beach, I watched a sea rescue helicopter at work, practicing with local Life Guards. I marveled at the skill of the helicopter pilot and crew and the sacrificial support of volunteer Life Guards who are committed to keeping beachgoers safe.
More mentoring lessons? Possibly for another day.