Before I get into the substance of the post, let me note that it may look like my life story is getting a little boring at this point. For the last few posts, I have not blacked out and fallen from a piece of exercise equipment; I have not had a medical procedure; and I have not even been in a hospital. Where is the story going? Well, I’m happy that throughout the last 3 to 4 years I wasn’t always in crisis mode! Just think of this as another commercial break in the story of my life. It is a time when I was able to carefully consider my options, calmly get a cup of tea, and proceed with an almost normal life until the next crisis loomed. During the next series of posts, I will let you determine whether I used the break wisely and was able to read the tea leaves a little better this time around.
As my retirement chapter continued to unfold, I certainly could not complain. I did feel much better in July 2013 than I did during the first six months of 2013. I just needed something to occupy my active mind, and heal and enrich my heart. As I worked through this matter in my mind, I knew that I needed to keep my life filled with people. I needed interaction with people to keep my brain stimulated, my senses of humor and compassion fueled, and to put any gifts that I had developed during my career to good use.
I concluded that I needed an activity where I could help guide people as they developed in their careers, and where they could help teach me some important life lessons as well. Thankfully for me, mentoring had become a fulfilling activity before I retired. Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have a number of mentors. In the ten-year period before I retired, I also chose to be a mentor in formal and informal relationships at the agency where I worked.
Why am I so enthusiastic about the process of mentoring? I guess there are a variety of reasons. One is the concept of paying back the investment of those people who were very busy but still took took their valuable time to advise me, and guide my career. Another reason is that in mentoring the younger generations, it has never failed that I always learned as much from my mentees as they learned from me. Plus, even as I get older, I find that the energy and positive curiosity radiating from those who are just in the beginning stages of their careers is invigorating to me in so many ways.
I have been much impressed by the work ethic, compassion and creativity of those I mentored. As I have said before in this blog, I do not agree with some of the members of my generation who mourn that the younger generations "are not as motivated, etc. as we were”. This is nonsense. Just spend more time with them, listen to what they want to accomplish and their reasons for their goals, and I am sure you will be as impressed as I am. Just give them the benefit of your expertise.
For the last few years that I worked for the government, I was a board member of an organization of government managers and leaders. Our general counsel also advised an organization whose members were young Federal employees who were interested in management positions, and who wanted to become the next generation of government leaders. I was impressed by their initiative, and I agreed to coordinate a pilot where 20 volunteers from our organization mentored 20 young Federal employees. In addition to requiring that each mentor and mentee meet once a month during the six month pilot program, we also held a number of networking events. While only a small pilot, it was very successful and both organizations wanted to pursue more mentoring programs.
Even after I retired, I remained on the board of this organization of government managers and leaders. It occurred to me that an activity that would keep me constructively engaged and fulfilled in retirement, but still allow me to focus on my heart health, would be to coordinate a second version of our mentoring program. Happily, the organization’s board was so enthusiastic about a second mentoring program that some of the board members volunteered to be mentors. So I agreed to take on the coordinator role in an official, though volunteer capacity.
In July of 2013, I met with three officers of the young government leaders organization to discuss the applications they had received for our joint mentoring program. These officers were all so talented and dedicated to the program that it was just a pleasure to meet and work with them. Their process yielded over 100 applications they had to review and screen these document to assure that the applicants met their criteria. We agreed on the timing of the review process, and we set a tentative date for submission of the approved applications to me.
In Mid-September of 2013, my counterpart at the young leader’s organization (who I will refer to from now on as my partner) forwarded more than 100 applications to me. As of that date, our organization had 38 managers (including me) who had volunteered to be mentors. So we needed to reduce the pool of mentees to a number that we could handle. I reviewed the applications as well as the expertise of each mentor. I also had asked the mentors in advance whether they had any preferences for mentees, for example, did they need to be at a specific point in their career, did they need to be in a specific job category, etc. Then using this information my partner and I spent a lot of time comparing the backgrounds of our mentors and the mentee applicants. We decided to offer each mentor 3 – 4 applications to review and let each mentor select their mentee from the pool of applicants we provided.
I began to learn that some volunteers were willing to mentor more than one person. I initially agreed to take on just one mentee, as I figured the coordinating tasks would keep me busy. After reviewing my packages, I thought I was best suited to guide and assist a young lawyer who was looking to not only advance his legal career, but to perhaps take on management roles outside of the role of an attorney. Since this was something I had done in my career, it seemed like a good fit. During our first meeting, I learned that his mother had a blog on diet and nutrition issues which I was very interested in, given my need to keep my diet heart healthy and low in sodium. So what a perfect fit for my goal – I could help this young attorney, and he had some information that was of great value to me!
After selecting my mentee, my partner asked me to take a look at the application of a young woman applicant who was working for one of the defense agencies as a contract specialist. I was intrigued, and thought this might be a good fit as I had some knowledge of the world of procurement given some of the responsibilities I held during my long career in the government. I thought I had some advice and networks that could help her.
After reviewing the application, I came to appreciate the insight of my partner. I knew that I was being nudged not only by him and maybe by fate to take this young woman on as a mentee as well. You see, she had battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was just a teenager, and the story of how she overcame this disease was so inspiring. Throughout our mentoring relationship (which turned into a friendship that continues) I found that our challenges in the area of health created a strong bond between us. She just had a little baby girl about two months ago and she is just overjoyed. I have no doubt that her positive nature and her faith got her to the point in her personal life where she is today. Whenever we are in touch with each other, I feel her strong influence as my faith and my heart are renewed.
I don’t think it is just coincidence that I agreed to accept the role coordinating a second mentoring partnership. I believe that this mentoring coordinating opportunity was one that a higher power created to guide and enrich my heart and spirit. On the obvious level, I needed something in my life as I transitioned from a very active job to a life where I needed to tone down my activity level a notch but still perform work that was fulfilling. I was so lucky to kick off the project with two mentees and a partner who were so talented. But I also needed (and received) an activity that would give me the ability to hopefully see warning signs as my health issues continued to subtly unfold over the next year…
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.