What Having 3 Mentors in 11 Months Taught Me
Mentorship is quite a life-hack if you ask me. It is an easy way to learn lessons and grow as a person from experiences you’ve never even been through. Instead, by hearing someone else’s stories and mistakes, you can ensure that you won’t go down similar roadblocks and can instead gain advice for your future endeavors.
“You should never try to be better than someone else, you should always be learning from others. But you should never cease trying to be the best you could be because that’s under your control and the other isn’t.” — John Wooden
I first gained mentorship through the BUILT BY GIRLS WAVE Program. The WAVE Program is designed to assist young female and non-binary students as they prepare to step into their careers. Each student is paired with a mentor for three months, usually someone who aligns with their interests and or career goals. After three months, the student is connected with their next mentor. The goal of this program is to provide students with a growing professional network, as well as an outlet to seek advice and learn together through completing projects or mock interviews.
Advisors are usually female or non-binary as well. This is done in order to connect young girls with people who look like them or may have experienced similar things as them. It also shows students that their dreams are achievable and possible, especially since someone they can relate to was able to reach them.
Since joining the WAVE Program back in September of 2019, I have been paired with three advisors, all of whom I was able to learn from and who impacted my life in ways I had never imagined.
1. My First Mentor
When I had begun talking to my first advisor, I was still a bit nervous because I had never had a mentor before. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say or ask. I didn’t know how building a relationship with a complete stranger, especially an adult, would be like. I didn’t know anything.
But, as soon as our phone call began, my uneasiness disappeared. I was able to see my mentor’s temporary home in Bali, the ocean waves her husband was learning to ride, and the shells that she had collected. I heard her stories about how she managed to live in different countries and still work with her clients online, as well as how she started her own business.
As our conversations continued over the three-month period, I always felt excited to talk to this mentor. I felt like our conversations flowed very easily, and left the structured path that the WAVE Program had designed us to follow. We talked about anything and everything. Our families, our cultures, our pursuits in life. She really showed me a different meaning of success and helped me find goals that were less artificial and which truly mattered to me.
From this mentor, I found myself becoming more comfortable with the idea of not knowing the future. She herself had received a degree in a major that was completely different from the industry she is currently working for. However, she didn’t view this as a setback, but as an opportunity to grow. To take risks in her business and think of creative ways to help her clients and herself.
In a similar matter, she helped me realize that each day we have the potential to change anything we don’t love about ourselves or our current situations. Though it may not be easy, we do have control over our lives and our happiness. If you don’t like your job, apply for a new one. Hate polluting the Earth and traffic? Ride your bike. Don’t like living in the same town you grew up in? Move somewhere new.
Indeed, it is all much easier said than done. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
2. My Second Mentor
Even though most advisors in the WAVE Program are women, my second mentor was a man. I believe that happened due to their being a lack of available mentors in the career path I was most interested in pursuing — Software Engineering. I actually felt like it was refreshing to hear perspectives of someone who wasn’t a woman in STEM, but was actually quite the opposite.
When I had first begun speaking to this mentor, it was right when the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. For that reason, I felt like we already shared experiences with quarantine, working from home, and utilizing technology to ensure that we are still connected with friends and family. Beyond that, I loved hearing my mentor’s journey from studying different types of engineering and conducting research, to eventually becoming a Software Engineer at Amazon. Though he hadn’t majored in Computer Science, he too was able to learn on the job and develop those skills outside of the classroom.
This mentor also showed me that there are other job opportunities available within Computer Science where you aren’t just confined to programming, such as becoming a Product Manager, something my mentor was interested in one day pursuing. I also enjoyed hearing stories about what it was really like to work at such a large company like Amazon, any interviewing tips he may offer, and how sociable the tech industry truly was.
Though I wasn’t able to completely finish programming the project, I did use a lot of the essentials I had learned from my mentor to create an online tutoring program that took place during COVID-19. This program allowed students from my high school to tutor local middle school students through Google Meet. I was able to utilize a lot of the technologies and skills that I had learned from this mentor to efficiently lead this program, and to work through difficulties such as assigning tutors to specific subjects based upon their availabilities and preferred topics.
Talking to this advisor showed me that while it is comforting to create connections with individuals who may be similar to you or have gone through similar experiences as you, it is equally as important to build bonds with people you may initially feel like you have nothing in common with. Because there is something you can learn from everyone. Plus, I found it to be very refreshing to see my mentor constantly acknowledge the lack of female involvement in STEM, which is why he offered his time to mentor students like me.
3. My Third Mentor
Throughout my conversations with my third mentor, I found it relieving to have someone to just listen to what I had to say and offer a different perspective that I hadn’t really thought about. Such as driving. I had very recently received my driver’s license, but have yet to drive on my own. Though I felt ashamed of saying this and embarrassed of being afraid to complete such a simple task, my advisor reminded me that I had my whole life left to drive on my own and that I was being mature by not rushing into things I wasn’t ready for.
Similar to this advice, my mentor taught me the importance of taking a step back and really looking at the bigger picture. While I would be constantly comparing myself to other students who I felt were better programmers than me or better accomplished, she reminded me not to compare my progress to someone else’s results. I often forget that I am still only eighteen years old and have a lot left to learn and a lot more chances to gain success, however this was something she helped me remember.
Through my mentor’s experiences, I was also able to see how what may currently feel like a huge failure ends up being one of the most fulfilling elements of your life. Similar to me, my advisor had also been rejected from her dream school, and attended a university that she wasn’t as initially excited about going to. Her recollections with the feeling of disappointment and not being good enough was something I could relate to. However, hearing about her stories with how she ended up loving her college experience, all of the fun classes she was able to explore, and the people she wouldn’t have otherwise have met, helped me become excited about my own journey in college.
I was also able to become more interested in topics that my mentor spoke to me about. Such as study abroad. Though I had always been interested in the opportunity, I didn’t feel like it was realistic for me to pursue. Yet, hearing my advisor’s stories about her own study abroad program, encouraged me to seek more opportunities for me to participate in it as well. In each call my mentor would also send links to TedTalks or books that had really inspired her. One of her favorites was the Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, which I am super excited to read as well. Through these conversations, I was able to learn about books and resources I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Lastly, my mentor was a huge help in my upcoming career endeavors. She provided me with a list of possible interview questions, which we went through and created responses for that would truly exemplify me as as a worthy candidate for future jobs. She also introduced me to a Software Engineer who she previously worked with, as well as set up a call between us where I was able to speak to him about his career, what he had learned, and any advice he could offer.
Through this mentor, I was able to visibly see the joy she felt whenever I told her about any accomplishments or changes I was facing in life. Her obvious proudness and constant pursuit to help me, such as writing me a letter of recommendation or helping me build a better professional network, was something that I truly am grateful for. Plus, I know that this bond will last more than just the three-month period that we were assigned to, as this is a connection that I hope to keep as I continue to grow.
Signing up for the WAVE Program was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though I was a bit nervous about it at first, and was actually thinking of quitting it, I’m happy I waited for my first conversation with my mentor to help me realize the benefits of this program. Not only did having mentors better equipped me with skills and knowledge needed for my future success, but more importantly it gave me an opportunity to just speak about anything that I had going on.
A lot of times I don’t tell people anything I’m going through or feeling, somewhat because I don’t want to burden them, but mostly because of my dislike of being vulnerable. However, through these conversations, I found myself opening up more and being unafraid of any judgement. Instead, I knew that my mentors would always be there to offer me advice and that they always had my best interest at heart.
I am excited to see what more advisors I will build with bonds with, as well as one day hope to become someone who can impact lives just as these mentors have done for me.