Mentorship in action

While the majority of us are doing our part to stay home during this COVID-19 pandemic, I know a lot of you are wondering how you can do more, how you can show up for your community. I’ve seen so many people show up – from fashion designers pivoting to make masks for first responders to yoga teachers offering free classes online to chefs feeding our most vulnerable neighbors, there is so much showing up going on. As we face the uncertainty of how long quarantining and social distancing will last, we do not have to put mentorship on pause.

An independent study commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showed that the strongest benefit from mentoring, and most consistent across risk groups, was a reduction in depressive symptoms — which is particularly noteworthy given that almost one in four youth reported worrisome levels of these symptoms at baseline. (The Role of Risk, 2013). Simply put, mentorship is good for mental health. If you have served as a mentor in any capacity, you can continue to show up for your protégés. Indeed, this may be the most important time to show up for them.

I have had the pleasure and honor of mentoring high school, college, and law school students for the past 25 years. I have thought a lot about how I can continue to show up for them during this time. What I have realized is that the way in which I choose to show up for my protégés can be applied across all disciplines. Here are my easy tips for showing up:

  • Text, email, or call your former and current mentees and simply ask how they are doing. Just hearing from you will make them feel that they are part of a community.
  • Ask whether they need to talk through what is happening and any particular challenges they are dealing with. For example, many of my mentees are now adjusting to finishing their semesters online, navigating job searches, and grappling with a delayed bar exam date. You do not need to have an absolute fix or answers for them – you can show up by simply listening and holding space for their concerns and fears.
  • If you have the bandwidth, offer to take on a new mentee, even just for the length of this pandemic. Make it known – post your offer on social media or through a virtual community board. Be inspired by people like Minda Harts, CEO and author of The Memo, who offered feedback phone calls in a tweet to her 10,000-plus followers. Or Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vayner Media, who posts his phone number on Instagram to his 7.8 million followers and asks them to text him with questions about their goals and stumbling blocks. I am not suggesting that you tweet or share your number with leagues of followers, but you can put yourself out there in a meaningful way.
  • Think about mentoring someone your age or older. Mentorships do not have to follow the traditional (and outdated) model of an older person mentoring a younger person for a set period of time. Do you have someone in your network that has expressed a desire for guidance or feedback? Let them know you are available for a brainstorming session!
  • As with mentorship, networking or “connectworking” as I like to call it, does not have to go on pause either. Do you have someone in your network that would be a good mentor fit for someone else? If so, make an introduction virtually.

Finally, if you yourself are looking for a mentor, be brave and ask! Don’t be afraid! This is a great time to seek support as many people are doing the right thing and staying home, perhaps eager to be of service by sharing their knowledge.