It dawned on me recently that mentors come in all colors, sizes and shapes. What got me thinking about it are my amazing online tutors, more like gurus, who are in their twenties, who speak “Aussie” and are the most down to earth, genuine and helpful professionals I’ve ever known. Whatever they do, comes straight from their hearts. We communicate on Facebook, YouTube, email and once a week I get to see and speak with them live from Australia. As they share their professional journey to success, their messages are always timely, genuine and inspiring. Do you have any advisors or guides that you turn to when you’re looking for guidance? Who are your mentors?
A mentor is someone you learn from by example
I’ve led volunteer teams to Costa Rica on numerous occasions. Most people traveling to this beautiful country only get to see the affluent coastal towns or tourist spots but never see the under-served communities.
While education and income levels are the highest in Central America, there are still pockets of poverty and opportunities for service abound. I encourage you to volunteer in this beautiful country if you ever visit.
In 2006 I had the chance to work at a state run senior nursing home in Costa Rica. That’s where I met Mr. Smythe, not Mr. Smith as Americans would spell and pronounce the name. He was a man of African descent, wore a French beret, a spotless white shirt and magenta colored pants.
He came to this facility by way of someone who had spotted him on the banks of a river. In Costa Rica that’s not a place you want to hang out. Crocodiles abound on river shores looking for food. This old man had been abandoned there by his family and left for dead. If a passerby had not seen him, Mr. Smythe would not have touched any lives.
He was a happy and gentle fellow. He talked about his ancestry and his kinfolk who originally came from Jamaica to build the railroads of Costa Rica. Most of his ancestors settled here, in Siquirres, on the Caribbean coast near Puerto Limon.
Through the years, the town developed as the only black community in the country and is known for its British heritage through its Jamaican roots. As such, it’s the only region in the country that serves tea instead of the famous Costa Rican coffee. “Proper” (as my husband says) British English is spoken here. Methodist and Anglican churches abound and, on any Sunday morning as you stroll by, one can hear beautiful hymns sung in English.
I spent several hours getting to know Mr. Smythe. We laughed a lot. He played songs for me on his guitar and after some time he chucked and I wondered why. It turns out that he realized I had no idea that he was blind.
From his peaceful demeanor and eagerness to give us joy through music and tales, I could have never guessed this to be the case. His soul emanated a light and happiness I have never experienced from one person before.
What is the origin of such love? Where does the power come from to be so joyful after being discarded like garbage, by your family, and losing your eyesight? I keep a framed picture of Mr. Smythe holding his guitar, a beautiful reminder of how we should all be. What better mentorship than by such a teacher? Mentors indeed come in different colors, sizes and shapes.
A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you
I used to think that mentors had to be older until I met my wonderful coaches from Perth. These are four of the most inspiring young professionals I’ve ever had the fortune to meet. They’re leading masters in our industry, are making seven figures and still find ways to give back.
They could be using their time and money on anything they wish. Instead, once a month they volunteer at a location or go to a homeless shelter to bring food and clothing to the poor. When in the Philippines to visit their families they find time to work with orphans. I’ve no doubt that they’re also the kind of individuals that would rescue someone along the banks of a river. They’re the kind of mentors I wish to be, one that teaches by example.
When I was the Executive Director of Volunteers on Call, Inc. I had the opportunity to work with people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs. My favorite groups were always children and young adults. I love their enthusiasm and creativity. They always think out of the box and are problem solvers. Conventional processes do not confine them. Their openness of mind reminds me always to be more youthful in my thinking. They teach me that to serve means to give whole-heartedly and with no expectations in return. They give tirelessly. I love seeing students traveling around the world to volunteer. It gives me hope for a better tomorrow for all.
A mentor can come in a non-human form
Unconditional love and acceptance comes from mentors of all colors, sizes and shapes. One of my greatest teachers comes in the shape of a dog with white and black fur. His name is Charlie. He’s my Border collie. He always reminds me to love and serve unconditionally.
He greets me at the door with a wagging tail even when I’ve had a bad day. He doesn’t stop loving me when I forget to make his meal on time. Charlie will sit quietly by my side when I meditate sensing that this is sacred time. When I’m ill he will curl up next to me. If I don’t give him a walk he still wants to play and keep me company. Shouldn’t we all learn from our pets?
A mentor becomes a surrogate mother
I got to know a woman by the name of Molly when I was a member of a local church. She’s petite, black and from the Caribbean. Molly is always impeccably dressed, is well read and has the voice of an angel.
When I first met her she was living in subsidized housing and was under the poverty line. But I never knew this until years later. She never spoke about her own needs, always volunteering to serve others with greater ones than hers.
We got to know each other while serving first responders shortly after 9/11. She became my “mum”, always being there when I need advice and pointing me in the right direction. Not that she’s the kind of person that cheers everyone for anything they do. Quite the contrary. When I’ve needed to get back on track, Molly has kindly expressed her views and set me straight. She always finds time to listen, even when I haven’t been in touch with her for months. She’s an up-lifter and confidant. Not many people are blessed with this kind of mentor.
I’ve learned a lot from Molly. No one is problem free but those who are the happiest, like Molly and Mr. Smythe, are people who serve others before their needs. Look for those like them. Rely on them. Emulate what they do. Find people who can show you that path. Like holiday presents, they come in all kinds of colors, sizes and shapes.
ROXANA BOWGEN, Digital Marketing Strategist
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