You know that brief moment in āTarzanā when he is flying through the air between vines? Thatās basically been my life for the last five years.
Like many of you, I left my family and friends to start college in Richmond. My first night in town, I had dinner with a student named Dan and listened while he shared his story. He became my first friend and connection to this place.
The next day, he introduced me to a few of his friends and his favorite professor. We laughed, they made fun of each other, and I began to imagine that life on this campus might actually work. In some small way, I was closer to home.
I had no idea how fast time in college would move. I especially didnāt know how significant those first few friends would be in providing me with advice as I made my way through the maze of classes, programs and professors. Without their help, I might have never found that sneaky second vine.
Looking back, I wonder why I listened at all. I could have disregarded their advice and found my own way. But for some reason I appreciated their experience and trusted strangers in a strange place.
Lesson #1: When life gives you strangers, hear them out. At the very least, youāll have a story to tell. At best, youāll have a new guide to show you the way.
These new friends told me which classes to take (and which not to take), welcomed me into their community and drove me to the ER when I fell out of a tree and broke my arm. Thatās right, this Tarzan metaphor just got real.
Not much has changed from those early days in Richmond. If Iām honest, the vines just feel farther apart and the fall much farther below. The only difference is that I now have faith that someone will introduce me to someone who can show me the way.
Iāve also matured a little since then. I certainly appreciate people more than I used to. While I usually took advice from others, I also regularly took it for granted.
Appreciating our mentors doesnāt mean we have to become our mentors, but it does mean that we have to give some effort. We have to be willing to say yes to something new and outside of our comfort zone.
Lesson #2: Receiving advice means humbling yourself long enough to actually listen.
Iāve also learned (many times over) that being mentored isnāt simply about receiving advice. Mentoring is not a product to consume or even a loan to repay. Itās also not supposed to make me feel good about myself or confirm what I already know. At its best, mentoring is a truth and a challenge. Mentoring first says, āI think you can do it,ā and then, āHereās what itās going to take.ā
Being mentored then becomes more about making choices than discussing ideas. When you receive wise counsel, itās not a hypothetical in a book; itās wisdom applied to your life. Receive it and say, āThank you.ā
Lesson #3: The more often you ignore someone elseās advice (for no good reason), the less likely they will be to share it.
When we commit to being mentored, we become a part of generations of mentors who have been acquiring and passing down wisdom for years. Open yourself up to wise counsel, prepare to be honest, and be willing to be wrong. Then, if you really want to be stretched, you can become a mentor yourself.
You may think that youāre not patient enough to mentor or that you donāt have enough time. But that is exactly why you should do it. If life gives you a chance to grow in a new (and uncomfortable) direction, shouldnāt you take it?
You can become more patient and eventually learn how to make time for the relationships that matter most. You can have the chance to pass on what was taught and the advice you have been given. And, for what itās worth, I think youād make a great mentor.
Michael Rogers is currently serving as the VISTA Mentor Program Coordinator in the University of Richmondās Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.