By Elijah Claude
Mentorship is one of the most important and valuable relationships in one’s life. Many in the professional world would agree, but very few in my neighborhood ever experience it. This tragedy is just one of the many things Year Up wants to remedy. What is Year Up? Well, for one, it is not Europe (you’d be surprised how many people confuse this phonetically). Year Up’s mission is to close the opportunity divide “by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.”
One very important part of this mission is creating a strong mentorship. Gerald Chertavian, Year Up founder and CEO, was inspired to create this organization from his mentorship experience in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Unfortunately, my experience was not as life-changing as Mr. Chertavian and his mentee’s, but it was still pretty good, and I hope that my experience will help take new mentorships, outside or within Year Up, to the next level.
At Year Up, staff members match interns with mentors. Mentors go through a qualification process almost as rigorous as the process for students or staff members. Mentors need a certain amount of experience, a good sized network, and a successful career track record.
After a few classes on mentorships, Year Up participants are given the mentor’s contact information. I reached out to mine via email. The week after, we spoke on the phone and established an agreement to speak over the phone every two weeks and by email whenever we got the chance. The mentorship program is great for opening up networks. My mentor helped me focus on how I could achieve my goals, as well as what kind of careers would most likely interest me. I got to learn a great deal about how my mentor got onto his career path, and his story served to teach me about his world both in a professional aspect, in terms of a technical career, and in a cultural aspect, with him being originally from India.
Mentorships create another layer of support that is crucial in becoming familiar with the corporate world and starting on a career path. There are so many strange and seemingly nonsensical politics, unsaid rules, and norms in the professional world. His experiences and advice served to mollify some of the culture shock as well as help me maneuver in such an alien world without feeling so out of place.
An important takeaway as a mentee is setting and adjusting expectations. We had a contract that set the expectations mostly in an abstract way, and we did not revisit it as time progressed. Though I am still in contact with my mentor, I feel that we did not have a very close or open mentorship. Neither of us really committed the time necessary to build a strong relationship.
This was my first mentorship ever. Did I set my expectations too high? Did I fail to communicate what I wanted/expected? Did my lack of initiative imply disengagement or apathy? Was my mentor at fault here? Several of my colleagues reported similar experiences; were we simply unprepared or somehow not open enough to mentorship?
We didn’t know what to even imagine such a relationship would or should be like. Yes, we could write some arbitrary schedule down, but because we did not have a deep understanding about successful mentorships, we were hard pressed to really take advantage of them. Especially since many of the mentors themselves did not seem to be ready for such a large time commitment.
From my own experience, I met with my mentor in person once. I did not get to talk much beyond that, excluding email, due to my limited means of transportation and lack of a phone. Plus, he had his own family and traveled out of state weekly for his consultant job. His lack of time and my lack of transportation and communication was a barrier to our relationship.
Mentors would do well to understand what kind of time commitment is necessary for a successful mentor/mentee relationship and what kind of efforts are expected to create that relationship. As it is, there are plenty of urban young adults going through Year Up who are already far out of their comfort zones dealing with their internships, workload, personal obstacles, family, and even additional jobs and school. Because of the mentee’s lack of experience, I believe it falls more on the mentor to drive the relationship.
I am not saying that the mentor should do all the work. I would like to put the blame on myself for not having enough initiative, or not dealing with my obstacles fast enough, to get further out of my comfort zone, or to connect with my mentor more meaningfully.
As “build trust, be honest” is one of Year Up’s core values, I think the best way to create a meaningful, long-lasting mentorship relationship that Mr. Chertavian founded Year Up on, is to go the extra mile as a mentor. To be there and make clear that you will do all you can to support and help the student bridge the opportunity divide.
I know plenty of alumni who have had great relationships. One of the longest I have seen so far is going on seven years, and her mentor is now the godmother of her child.
Commitment. Expectations. Engagement. If those three values are present, life-long friendships are made, and the mentee is inspired to pay it forward as well.
Commitment is needed for the time dedication. My internship manager only has one or two mentors at a time because he believes mentorship is the most important relationship outside of family. You are entrusting each other to be in each other’s confidence and to connect personally. That sort of trust takes time. If one is not willing or able to spend such a valuable commodity than one may not be ready to invest in a mentorship.
Expectations are what set the tone for the duration of the mentorship. Just as it is best to communicate what you want from a intimate relationship and from a close friendship, the best mentorships start with a clear communication of expectations. Clarify what you want, need, and think, balanced with what you are willing to give, take, and share.
Engagement is the meat of the relationship. It is what makes the mentorship interesting and fulfilling. This is what motivates both the mentor and mentee to communicate with each other no matter the adversities. It probably will fall on the mentor to make the first move to establish an environment of trust and warmth, but it really makes the difference between some mutually exclusive business connection and an empathic bond that change both the mentor and mentee’s world view.
Effective mentorships don’t just help a student get a hand up out of disadvantaged situations. They lift an entire generation up for better opportunities.
Elijah Claude is a Haitian-American from Clayton County in Georgia. He has eclectic, erudite taste for anything that manages to make him think; meaning open world story driven action-combat games, epic orchestral dubstep music, really long sci-fi/fantasy books, action-based psychological manga, quantum theory, relativity, poetry, space, STEM, and sappy or comedy movies. He wants to make a career out of inventing technology based on outlandish open-source ideas.