How my Mentor Taught me Courage
January is National Mentoring Month so we’ve asked our Opportunity Nation Leaders and Scholars to share their personal experiences with mentorships.
I could never tell whether Kim thought I was funny. Sometimes when I cracked a joke she would just stare at me, her expression unchanging, until I looked away. I would wonder if I had done something wrong or stepped out of bounds. Other times when I said something vaguely humorous, she would burst out laughing, and pat me on the shoulder. “That’s funny,” she would say. And I would smile sheepishly.
Kim was my first real supervisor, at my first paid internship at Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. She served as Chief Marketing Officer, so all of my tasks centered on marketing and advertising for our semi-annual “Take the Lead Awards.” For most of the summer, I was in charge of calling every small business on a seemingly never-ending spreadsheet to see if they would be interested in advertising in our program booklet. Although dry and repetitive, the job proved useful for both me and for Girl Scouts. It wasn’t a bad way for a fifteen-year-old to contribute.
Through the course of the summer, Kim became a true mentor to me, both in terms of my career and personal life. She would let me know when I was doing things right, and praised my effort to find out incentives for small businesses to advertise with us. But she would also call me out when I was slacking or not thinking hard enough. Sometimes she would take me out for lunch and ask about my life at home, my aspirations and how I hoped to use my internship in the future. I felt like she cared.
Later, Kim connected me to her friend who ran a youth marketing firm, which ended up being my internship the following summer.
But the true test of our bond happened two years after I first met Kim. I had just received a stern phone call from another organization informing me that I had accidentally offended an adult at the leadership retreat with an anxious, fumbled joke. Pacing around the halls of the Science Center at my university, I ran through possible courses of action in my head. I could quit altogether and spare myself the embarrassment. I could pretend it never happened. I could apologize to the person I had offended. I could apologize to my advisor. I could do nothing. I could run away and hide for the rest of my life.
The first person that I called was my mentor, Kim.
I explained the situation. Kim listened carefully before telling me that I could not, under any circumstances, quit. “It’s an opportunity,” she said, “And you never know who you might meet.” She advised me to own up to my mistake, explain that I should have saved my sometimes offbeat sense of humor until I had gotten to know everyone better, and apologize with sincerity to everyone involved for making them uncomfortable. “For the record,” she said, “I think you’re funny.”
I took Kim’s advice. I sent a heartfelt email explaining that my nervousness at being the youngest person in the room had manifested in a clumsy joke, and that I was sincerely sorry. I would try to do better. The organization responded warmly. I could not be more thankful that I did not just hid my head and run away or quit as I was initially tempted to do.
Mentors can change lives. Kim changed mine. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day Kim took me out to lunch and forced me to send a text message to a boy that I had been too afraid to contact. I’ll never forget how she taught me to face mistakes bravely and sincerely. I’ll never forget how she asked, listened and genuinely cared.
Most of all, through her own example, Kim taught me courage. And for that, I’ll always be in debt.
Eva Shang is a 17-year-old freshman and Huffington Post editor-at-large at Harvard University. She is passionate about education, social justice, and mass incarceration reform. Eva is an Opportunity Nation Leader.