Friday, February 7, 2014

Who Are My Mentors?

Went to PHB's first Mentoring Program event. I worked from 7:30am-4pm and the plan was to go home, take a shower, relax, and then leave at 6:00pm to arrive at 6:15pm to help set up for the event which was from 6:45-9pm. Then Jos called me. "Why do you sound so depressed?" WHYYYYY would you call me when you know it's just as easy to talk with me during setup at 6:15pm?! I'm decompressing from the day so I can transition from sit-in-a-desk to speaking-in-front-of-a-room-full-of-people because someone (Jos) volunteered me to:

1. Pick 2 mentor names out of a bowl so they can speak tot he group for 30 seconds

2. Tell mentees and mentors to talk to each other for 1-2 minutes in groups of 2 to better get to know each other

3. Introduce the 2 mentor coordinators who gave me their mini intros

...AND then also bring a list of supplies to the meeting for set AND run the registration booth.

Jos interrupted the only "me" time I was allotted for the day and I don't apologize for not being crazy enthusiastic when answering her call to add MORE to the list of things I was already scheduled to do during the event.

The event itself went really well. I was kind of "out of it" for the first 20 minutes or so because I ran out of steam and needed food/drink to re-energize. But when the event got started I really got into what was being said by the mentors and the mentees. A lot of great quotes and advice were being passed around and at one point I remember thinking: These mentors are so inspiring I want to join the program now.

At some point during the event another thought occurred to me: Who have been my mentors in life?

I've only had 1 "official" mentor -who I actually don;t consider a mentor at all because we were arbitrarily paired together and never spoke to each other outside of that moment in time of first pairing. Instead what I have is a list of people who positively influenced my life and unofficially mentored me in powerful, defining moments. 

The first mentors I ever had were teachers. In fact the Majority of people I would consider mentors were teachers.

In elementary school I had no one. I had a role model named Xena Warrior Princess and that was it. It wasn't until high school when I really needed mentors the most that they came forward in my life. The first one that comes to mind was Mrs. Granzela my English Teacher during sophomore year.

Mrs. Granzela noticed that I took particular interest in art so one day while everyone was doing silent reading she asked me to come with her outside the classroom. She walked along the hallway with me leading me somewhere and she said, "Have you ever considered being in an art class?" At this point in time I had taken 2 drawing classes and was currently signed up in Visual Arts 1. She walked me over to a familiar classroom and out popped a teacher I had come to know well: Mrs. Kern. Mrs. Granzela had felt compelled to introduce me to an art teacher she knew not realizing I was already assigned to her class. It was the only time a teacher has ever gone that far out of their way to see that I was engaging in something they felt I had talent in or would have meaning to me.

The second teacher that I would consider a mentor to me was probably Mrs. Kern. Most of the kids in her class were just there to satisfy an elective and had no real interest in art. Mrs. Kern invited me and a few other students to come by after school and get college credits by taking an art class she was hosting. I felt pretty honored to be considered one of the teens she trusted to come to this after-school class.

During high school my grandma also introduced me to one of the greatest mentors I've ever had: Chloe Fonda. Chloe was a local artist, but the things she showed me in art and in life helped open my eyes to new possibilities. In the beginning when I first started working with watercolor I would try to stay within the lines. She would purposely turn the paintings upside down and sideways to get the paint to run everywhere it could. "The interesting stuff worth seeing happens when you let the paint go where it wants and do what it wants." She showed me that paintings was the art of taking something uncontrolled and messy like water to paper and guiding it rather than forcing it to create an image. She gave me chances to let go of what was "supposed to be" and create "what could be if I let it be". She also shared a lot about life and things that were going on in the world -especially in Asian culture which she had a particular interest in.

The next mentors I had were in college. I would only name 4 that I was around long enough to consider mentors because no one else really knew me. The first was Blake de Maria. She actually frightened me when I first took her class. She was hilarious but would also bluntly call on people and expect them to know the answer. I hid in the back and laughed silently to her jokes during Art History class. At some point, after taking 3 of  her classes, she told me: "Jessica you need to speak up. I know you know the answers but if you don't speak you're going to have to mark down your grade for the class." It was the old disheartening reality come to bite me again. At some point I just accepted it and decided I will always get marked down at least 10 points overall for any class because I don't speak up like they want me to. I was still unaware at the time I had Social Anxiety Disorder -but I was smart enough to realize it was something I couldn't change and could only accept at the moment.

The second teacher was also in the Art Department. Pancho Jiminez helped me out in the last year of college. I had seen him around in the ceramics classroom and always liked his "energy" which seemed quietly upbeat and optimistic. He never really mentored me directly and we rarely spoke but I liked the way he led people in general and handled situations calmly and with grace and control.

The third "mentor" aka "professor who acknowledged me in some way and gave good advice" was Laurie Poe. I'm weird because everyone knows I'm great at art, but not many people know that I'm also randomly good at math for some strange reason. I've always been good at it. I don't like it that much, but I always get good grades in it. Laurie saw this and actually reached out to me and asked if I could tutor other kids on the class who were struggling. Again because of a lack of confidence and issues with social anxiety I declined. I missed out on a lot of things in college actually. I didn't join any groups on campus. I never attended any parties or events. I only went to classes. And even then I rarely spoke up during classes. But Laurie encouraged managed to notice me and offered me the chance to step out more.

The last 2 teachers I'll name also only reached out to me for a moment in time. They never talked to me regularly or officially mentored me -they just noticed me. The last year of college I had a Spanish teacher -who after noticing I got great grades in class started to wonder like every other teacher I had ever had why I didn't speak up more in class. She gave me several opportunities to speak in front of the class including one time when after walking into the classroom 10 minutes before class started she asked me to write the main points she had taught yesterday on the board. I felt so nervous writing on the board from memory as students began wandering in. And then she had to correct one of the things I wrote when class began and spoke to me directly while she was correcting it. It was embarrassing -but when I look back moments like that meant everything. 

The last professor taught a Religion + Environment class. He really noticed me and at some point realized that I did know the answers and could be called on for them, but I would not offer up my hand otherwise. Like I sometimes did on my last day of class when the final paper was due I showed up empty handed -not because I couldn't do it but because I procrastinated until the last minute, felt overwhelmed, and shot myself in the foot and gave up. He asked, "Where is your paper?" And I said, "I got sick and couldn't finish it." I all honesty I did have 70% of it done but decided I'd rather turn in nothing than something only partly finished. "You can finish it and turn it in to me by 5pm today." He extended the deadline from that moment until the end of the day and I rushed home and finished the paper and rushed back to hand it to him. "I knew you could do it," he said as he handed it to me. It was like he'd seen this behavior before from other students and knew what I was doing and where it was coming from. It was the only time a teacher has ever seen that and done that for me.

After college I had no mentors for a long time. I think my friend Alex can be considered a mentor because he tried to take me under his wing and introduce me to The Bible and Christianity. He also tried to bring me out of my shell more and commended me on my attributes. 

The only other person I would list as a mentor would be Jos. Despite the fact that she can get on my nerves sometimes and veers off the path into what I would consider to be "unwise territory" she has an amazing ability to encourage other people to step up and lead more. It's embedded in her nature to bring out people's potential and not settle for less. I'm always surprised when out of nowhere she will notice someone and focus on ways to bolster their talents and skills.

Mentors ans guides are important things to have in life. They show up when you least expect them and when you need them most.

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