I’ve always been a pretty independent person. I take initiative to find resources and solutions to problems without much guidance, I’ll sit in a diner or coffee shop by myself and just read, study, or work on stuff. I’ll navigate my way through busy traffic to run errands or find some good deals at the local shops. I can do a lot of things when I put my mind to it.
But there come moments in the life of a busy girl when she slows down long enough to evaluate the way things are going. Anxieties and worry creep in and tell her, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” She doubts herself for a minute… and wonders… who can I ask for help? Do you remember that feeling?
Not every woman has a strong mother figure in her life, or someone to model themselves after. Even if mom was there, we are still not necessarily made in her cookie cutter image with all the same interests, desires, and goals. We need a community of ladies to lean on, to glean from, to learn from, and to run to when life gets tough.
Wherever you are in life, there will always be women who are younger and in need of a go-to person for help, and if you can connect at all with the scenario I just described, I’ll bet you can feel the importance of needing someone to help you along those bumpy roads, too.
This generation is screaming for mentors who will lead them, do life with them, and encourage them that their current circumstances are not their final destination. But you can also be that person for someone else. In fact, emotionally healthier women almost always have someone they are mentoring, and someone who is mentoring them. Why? Because we should never stop growing, no matter how old we are.
I want to suggest five practical steps for opening yourself up to a relationship with a younger gal, and why it doesn’t have to be a particularly structured and orderly thing. Sometimes even the word “mentor” can feel very lofty and unattainable, or like you need to be at least __ years old to have all the wisdomus insight to divulge… blah blah blah. (See, I just made up that word…wisdomus). The point is, you don’t have to know a ton of information to just BE there for someone. These ideas come from extensive research done by Dr. Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann in their book entitled Organic Mentoring: A Mentor’s Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women.
Spend time with ladies who are younger than you. Maybe your kid’s babysitter, or some of the youth at church; the girl at the coffee shop or even your own niece or granddaughter. Young ladies are desperate just to do life with someone who has been-there done-that. Hey, even if you’re just a few years ahead of them in the game, that counts, too! Quality time can be the first initial ice breaker into developing a more meaningful relationship. Go out for coffee, walk in the park. Try a new activity that she enjoys – heck, even window shopping at the mall can be emotionally productive, and you can also learn about what she’s interested in.
I think we would all agree that technology has rapidly changed the way we do life over the past 25 years. Having a presence on social media or even texting speaks volumes to a young busy woman. If she can check out your Facebook profile or scan your Instagram pics, she can get an idea of the real person you are (not that total authenticity is derived from social media posts, but it’s still a window into your world). Younger women won’t believe that you have the capacity to understand their world if you cannot understand their technology. They will trust that you are able to connect with them on a real level. Get to know some of the new tech if not for your own use, but for the sake of establishing connection with her. This will open doors when she knows she can get a hold of you by her means.
Young women need to be able to call you when they can, particularly when they have a specific need. Research has found that it doesn’t do much good to make a young girl sit for a scheduled period of time and download tons of information into her brain that may not have significant meaning for her at that point in time. The communication process gets muddled and she can get frustrated because her most pressing needs are not being met. But why should you accommodate her schedule… seems unnatural, like “Why should I cater to her needs? Doesn’t she need to learn from me? Yes and no. What happens when we are flexible is that we can model what it looks like to serve others, and she will catch that you are willing to respond to moments when she is ready to learn. That cycle will perpetuate the trust and understanding you want to build with her, and the hope is that she will eventually emulate the way you are there for her in the life of someone else.
Be a GOOD LISTENER
Mentoring younger women is about understanding them and their journey – it’s an opportunity to stretch and grow with another person. You don’t need to worry about how much you know or don’t know to reach out to the younger generation. They already look up to you for having gone through seasons of life that they haven’t yet. Active listening will be the key agent to building trust in this relationship where she just needs to know you’re there for her. Don’t worry about trying to fix her problems, she will learn more from you sharing your own experience and how you overcame similar struggles. Will there be a time and place for giving advice? Yes, but allow her to ask you for that.
A postmodern woman typically has a strong sense of individuality and does not consider herself a receptacle to be filled, makeover candidate, or potential ditto. But she does desire an experiences guide to help her respond to God’s presence in her daily life… times of instruction, guidance, and wisdom will certainly be a part of this process, but mentoring is primarily about the needs, goals, and desires of the one being mentored. (Edwards & Neumann)
In his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organization, author Peter Senge states that adults learn what they want to learn, not what someone else thinks they need to learn. This is such an important piece to keep in mind when working with young adults. You cannot push them to grasp or agree with new methods until they first know that they can trust you, and that you’re making every effort to understand them exactly where they are. Adult motivation often kicks in when a problem needs solving, thus another reason to be flexible.
One of my mentors shared this concept with me, and then went on to say, “Jenn, people need to know that you see them.” I knew exactly what she meant, because she had just spent three months getting to know me; my goals, fears, insecurities, joys, and strengths. She listened to me, nodded, echoed my sentiment and even cried with me. I could accept her advice once I knew that she saw me for who I was first.
The greatest need of many women in the next generation is a caring shepherd who “sees” her and offers guidance and stabilizing truth connected to her life. (Edwards & Neumann) I can recall many times in my life, particularly as I transitioned from one milestone to another (i.e., graduation, new job, marriage, kids, homemaking), when I needed someone to listen to my worries, concerns, stress and anxiety. I still do. So many demands are made of women today, and we need someone to help us reprioritize, take a breath, and with sympathetic hearts say, “Yes, I’ve been there. It will get better. You’re doing fine.”
Be the person you needed when you were younger. Seek out that person you need to lead you now. She’s waiting.