*By Julie Wang’ombe - Gap Year Program Lead

Confession: I don’t have a formal mentor. Yes, people have asked me to mentor them and of course I’ve been mentored informally and sporadically over the course of life (who hasn’t?), but I've never had any formal, defined or enduring mentorship relationship (save of course with my mother!).

Now as an organization, Akili Dada is fairly big on mentorship. We're working towards a global community  of women who support and invest in one another. We're committed to raising an empowered generation of women, by ensuring that those who’ve 'gone ahead' pay forward their experiences, stories and expertise to those who are ‘en route’, so to speak. I on the other hand, have never spent too much time thinking about my personal need, or lack thereof, for a mentor. But after our mentor’s only event earlier this week, it finally dawned on me: mentors are incredibly important! The more I think about it, the more convinced I am not just of my personal need for a mentor, but of everyone’s.

And for now, here's why:

1. Two are better than one:

Fact: people need other people. Why? Partly because...well...life is hard! Nobody makes it alone, and if we're going to face and overcome the challenges that undoubtedly lie before us, we'll all need help.

Two will always be better than one. Because where one will give up, two might press on if they have each others encouragement. Where one will fall and stay down, two will help each other back up. Where one will fail, odds are two will succeed. I’m don't believe that human beings were made to be lone rangers trying to make it to the top. “It’s not good to be alone”. The right mentor - someone who is committed to and personally invested in your growth and development - can be one of the best people to pair with in this journey of life.

2. We need objectivity:

We may be striving for self awareness but the truth is we’re not always the ones who know ourselves best, or knows what’s best us. Right? Think about it.  How easy is it to overlook our weaknesses? To excuse them? How often have we had to have someone else point out our blind spots? How often do our emotions cloud our judgement? How often do we want to make short term, emotion and circumstance driven decisions at the expense of good long term goals? Or, on the flip side, how often do we get so excited about an idea that we’re willing to drop everything to follow through with it…even without adequately thinking through it.

If we’re honest, we realize that sometimes we are too caught up in our own lives; our own heads and hearts, to be the best decision makers for ourselves. Of course we still make final decisions, but we probably shouldn’t do that unilaterally. At the end of the day, we need objectivity. We need people who care about our lives but who can soberly listen to us and input objectively. Before we take the job, or quit the job, or start the business or elope to wherever people elope to in Africa, we need sounding boards: people who we can run our ideas, thoughts, and feelings past – before we do anything rash and…possibly regrettable!

3. We need maturity

I’m young and this might seem more relevant to youth, but I’d argue that it’s relevant to all of us. When I say maturity, I mean on a very basic level people who have more life or work experience than we do. There are things that younger or less experienced cannot know just because they are only exposed to a limited range of human experience. The older one or more experienced one is more likely to have been exposed to a wider range of human experience, and to know how to handle these experiences (whether the lessons were gained by positive or negative experience). We need people who’ve been where we’ve been, and beyond and we need them to be able to tell us ‘Yes, I’ve been where you’ve been before and I can tell you: x works, y doesn’t.” All of us can benefit from this, because all of us have people who know more, or have experienced more than us in one facet of life or another. And more often than not, I think we’ll find that seeking the input of these people in our lives makes our lives better because at the very least our decisions will be that much more informed.

That’s it for me – 3 reasons why I think we should all consider having mentors, if we don’t already. If you have a mentor, and find mentorship useful why not share with us your reasons for seeking a mentor and why you think mentorship is important? If not, why haven’t you considered being mentored? It would be great to hear from you!

Photo credits: Akili Dada

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