Being a die-hard diversity champion, one thing that I feel strongly about is giving back to the professional community, especially when it comes to women networks. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we want to see more and more women in leadership positions then experienced representatives of the gender must come forward to help groom the youngsters.
There is immense value to professional experience sharing. Formal and informal mentoring programs help interlace this crucial connection. This is what attracted me to the Katalyst mentoring program – a community project that is very close to my heart.
I was surprised to see this award-winning NGO understand the importance of providing such unique, invaluable, development interventions to meritorious girl students from underprivileged backgrounds, through its well-institutionalized framework. I was particularly impressed by Katalyst’s zeal to implement this for effectiveness and not just as tactical inclusion.
To be very honest, when I signed up for the Katalyst mentoring program I did it with mixed feelings. Of course, one part of me was very happy to have stumbled upon a beautiful opportunity that provided a channel to ‘give back’ – an aspect that is integral to my value system. The other part of me was filled with apprehension because a commitment such as this would demand my time and energy on top of the stresses of my full-fledged corporate job, not to speak of the familial responsibilities on the personal front. Irrespective, I dived.
With every passing year, I experience how mentoring can be a collaborative, empathetic, stimulating, rewarding, and satisfying relationship.
What began as an experiment continues to grow on me for the last six years. This is special because I get to work with young students, filled with dreams & aspirations, who have the academic education & skills but lack exposure to the real world.
I have been mentoring Katalysts for many years now and as I look back, I feel that I have received more than what I probably may have given. There are innumerable stories, experiences, conversations, debates, challenges, problems, that my mentees and I have experienced together.
There is so much, I realize, that I can impart just by sharing my life lessons. However, what came as a surprise is how much I have benefitted from this arrangement, in return.
While I walk from the end of experience towards my mentees, my young students walk from the end of unadulterated dreams and life expectations towards me. We meet halfway, and this is the sweet spot that fills the space with motivation for both.
Related Read: Emotional Intelligence In Communication
I bring here the top three life-long lessons that my mentoring experience imparts to me on an ongoing basis:
How much of the Diversity & Inclusivity that we talk about is posturing and how much of it is real? This is a question that we should ask ourselves at regular intervals.
After interacting with my students and getting to know their stories I have started applying these two words to everything about me. And believe me, this exercise has the propensity to impact a complete transformation. I do a regular self-check to observe my progress on the D&I quotient.
My assessments are based on the scores that I get on the following parameters:
Do I accept the differences in people and embrace them genuinely for what they are? Do I enjoy and appreciate this difference?
Do I judge people on preconceived notions and impressions based on their ethnicity, culture, societal standing, hierarchy, title, profession, gender, or age? Over the years my experiences in life may have instilled certain impressions that may have unknowingly got converted into beliefs. Am I willing to understand this and look at things objectively?
Do I make an unwilling compromise out of compulsion, or do I genuinely open my mind to accepting thoughts and ideas that are different from mine?
Do I demonstrate the agility/flexibility to accommodate somebody else’s priorities as against mine? The years of punctuality, schedules, calendars, planning – have all of these made me too rigid? Have I, somewhere along the line, forgotten to take life as it comes, with effortlessness?
There are multiple dimensions, I realize, to the D&I quotient. The liveliness of my students, their innocent banter, their (sometimes) irrational & illogical dreams, and aspirations, their missing of schedules – all these nuances in our interactions dent my straitjacket corporate conditioning while shouting, “ease, chill and learn to enjoy imperfection!”
Related Read: Perception
My ongoing interaction with my Katalyst girls continues to give me a reality check on how privileged I have been in innumerable aspects of my life. It is so easy for anyone to tune in to the ‘I am a victim and life is hard on me, why can’t I be as lucky as xyz…’ frequency. My students, their struggle, their grit and determination to fulfill their parents’ dreams, their zest for life despite adverse situations, their willingness to learn, and their courage to overcome life situations always leave me with a feeling of guilt on how life can be tougher than what we imagine or have experienced it to be.
Whenever I give in to the temptation of delving into self-pity, I remind myself of the stories that my students share with me. I then cannot but thank the universe for giving me so much in life. Feeling grateful makes you value what you have, and this is how my mentees have ‘reverse mentored’ me.
It is easy to hit a rut in life. While focusing on work, competition, one-upmanship, challenges, upskilling, and the like, we inadvertently make our own lives very complicated. It is important to press the ‘refresh’ button occasionally. Every mentoring session with my awesome girls forces me to revisit the basics. While answering their questions and working out solutions together, I get directed to the simple principles that are at the root of solving any complicated issue.
When I narrate my experiences or share some strategies to overcome hurdles, I take a trip down my journey, which in turn reminds me of the insights that I may have forgotten along the way. There are so many times when in order to teach some lessons to my mentees, I have opened that delightful treasure trove in my memory, to pick up forgotten books, basic management lessons, TED talks, motivational movies, and the like. In the process, I pick up those forgotten pearls that tell me that white space is essential if a design must stand out. Simplicity, minimalism, and effortlessness are the virtues that should be treasured and harnessed through life.
Thank you, my dear students, for believing and trusting me to help you navigate through your learning. The outcomes of our interesting interactions have indeed been a real education for me too and I encourage everyone to share their experiences and realize the benefits of mentoring, not just for the mentees but also for the mentors!