Before becoming an author, I worked full time with an environmental engineering firm. I was in a senior position, working on environmental impact assessments. I was also a mother of three small children and managing a number of projects and employees. It was a lot to balance. When my firm started a corporate mentorship program, I jumped at the chance to learn from senior folks, especially any senior woman in the firm. I wanted to pick their brains and figure out how to successfully balance being a mother and a career woman.
Unfortunately, there were no senior women to look up to. Don’t get me wrong. There were lots of women being hired in my firm, but they were all my age or younger. There was no one who’d already worked their way up the ranks and faced some of the dilemmas and concerns I felt. And that’s when my quest for female mentorship began.
The concept of respecting and learning from our elders has been around a long time and for good reason. It’s a principle I was raised on. I’ve always had friends who were my age or younger. While we could jointly commiserate over cranky babies, sleepless nights, and overactive toddlers, the advice from someone who has already lived through these stages is unique and valuable. Time gives you perspective and hindsight, and that’s what I was looking for.
Ten years ago, I left my full-time job in Canada to live in the Caribbean. I quickly met a group of ex-pat ladies living on the island. Some were my age, but the ladies I really connected with were fifteen to twenty years older than me. On the surface, this might seem strange, but I’ve spent many hours talking to them about the challenges and changing stages of my life – my health, raising teenagers, watching my kids move on to college, and staying motivated and positive about my life and goals.
I’ve benefitted so much from the wisdom of these friends. In fact, the only thing that bothers me is that I sometimes feel our friendships are not balanced…like maybe I get more from our friendship than they do. I can only try to be as good a friend to them. I also worry that my kids and their generation put more stock in answers they find posted online from a stranger. I worry that they don’t appreciate how much can be gained from someone who has witnessed and learned from decades of life experiences.
The importance of these women in my life even inspired a character in my debut YA novel. My main character, Clover, is homeless and going through some tough times, when she arrives in a small town in Florida and meets Daniel and his grandmother, Ms. Ginny. Ms. Ginny not only provides her with a temporary home, but also much needed guidance, support and acceptance. After reading the book, one of my friends asked me how I came up with her character and whether or not I’d had a Ms. Ginny in my life. I was so glad to be able to say that I had a bunch of Ms. Ginny’s in my life:)
As a newly published author, I’m now turning my need for mentors to the publishing world. While I have many wonderful writing friends, most are in a similar stage in their career as I am. This is why I attend writing conferences, even though they are expensive. One of my favorite moments was standing at a cocktail table with a group of very experienced authors and listening to them exchange war stories about editors and agents and contracts going back over twenty plus years. How I wish I could have talked to them all night!
I’ve yet to connect with an experienced author who is willing to have that type of longer-term relationship with me, but the main thing is that I am on the lookout. So when that opportunity presents itself, I will take it and value it!
So how about you? Do you have mentors? How have they contributed to your life? I’d love to hear your stories.