Mentor, friend not the same
My life has been blessed by several strong mentors who have helped me overcome hurdles and make difficult decisions. When I reflect on my life experiences -- from my early teenage years to college and even into young adulthood -- there were a series of key players who mentored and guided me along the way.
I look back now and realize the major difference between a mentor and a friend: a mentor is someone you go to for sound, objective advice because they have a perspective you have not yet earned. They may not have a lot in common with you on a personal level. For me, my most trusted mentors were never the people I socialized with or called personal friends. They were caring adults who saw something in me and in their own special way helped me realize my potential.
My father was my first mentor. He was a public school principal. Not surprisingly, when I was trying to decide between a career as a veterinarian (I have always loved dogs) or a principal, he told me about the joy he found when he realized he could make a whole school work well for hundreds of children. His personal story about waking up every day and doing everything he could to prepare children to inherit the world made me decide to become an educator -- as a teacher, then principal and eventually a superintendent.
Looking back now, my next significant mentor was Dr. David Horowitz, the chair of my dissertation committee. I was determined to get my doctorate by the time I turned 30. He gave me sound advice as I prepared for my oral defense. I will never forget his words of wisdom: "Only answer the question you are asked. If you give them too much information, they will hang you with it." He promised to "kick me under the table" if I talked too much during my "final examination." He did. And thanks to his mentorship, I passed my doctoral exams with flying colors.
The next mentor to come into my life was the deputy superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia. I was her assistant, and she was the first person who told me "one day you will have my job -- or even higher." She saw something in me that at the time I did not know I possessed. She told me I was a leader, and one who was bright enough to become superintendent one day. For the first time, I started to see myself through her eyes and believe in my own ability.
Very soon after I became a principal, I was assigned a veteran principal as my official mentor. I only remember one thing he taught me, but it is something I live by every day. He said, "Be an advocate for children. If you are an advocate for children, you will be able to make very hard and difficult decisions." He was right.
Like actors on a stage, mentors enter and exit your life. The lessons they teach, however, last a lifetime. And now, even as I mentor other young professionals, I still call upon my longstanding mentors -- Tim, John and my dad -- when the stakes are high and I have hard decisions to make. Just as it was when I was younger, I frequently need them, and they never let me down.
Be a mentor. Make a positive and lasting impact on a child. I know there is someone who needs you, and I know that your life and theirs will be brightened by the experience.
Editor's Note: In observance of National Mentor Month, each week in January we are sharing the story of a local adult who has benefited from mentoring. This week, Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley shares her experience.