Step up and be a mentor

Mr. Shaibel from The Queen’s Gambit

If you don’t believe that mentors make a difference, check out the influence of custodian Mr. Shaiblel on 9-year-old orphan Beth Harmon in the popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. After her mom’s death, Beth was sent to live in an orphanage where she struggled to find her bearings. She was befriended by the building’s janitor, Mr. Shaibel, who teaches the young prodigy the game of chess. Like all good mentors, he sees something in her that she is not yet able to see in herself. She quickly becomes a strong chess player due to her incredible visualization skills and her dogged focus. That show reminded me of how invaluable just one person can be in the life of a child.

Who made a difference in your life?

I bet that each and every one of you reading this can recall an adult that made a positive influence on you growing up. It may have been a relative, teacher, coach, neighbor, or camp counselor. And the manner in which mentors make a difference in our lives can take on many forms.

One of my mentors, Bill Reidler, used a metaphor during lunch at a retreat one day to help me see myself in a different light. He grabbed several salt and pepper shakers and arranged them in a cluster at one end of the table to represent people in my field who I admired. He placed a salt shaker away from this grouping to represent me. I remember him telling me that the only thing holding me back from making a bigger influence in the lives of kids and parents was that I saw my mentors as being more capable than me. He slid the salt shaker representing me into the other grouping and said it was just a choice for me to let go of my old beliefs of not being good enough and to believe in myself more. That metaphor resonated with me that day and still does. 

The Right Words at the Right Time

I read a story about another mentor in the book, The Right Words at the Right Time that illustrated how an advisor’s words can alter your path. Nicole Hanton grew up having to endure an alcoholic mother and a drug-addicted father who molested her. Her saving grace was Lorrie, the mother of her best friend. This mom shared that she too had grown up with abusive parents yet had survived and flourished. One day Lorrie gave her advice that changed her life. “You know, your life is like a train, Nicole”, she said, “and you’re riding down a certain set of tracks. But here’s the incredible thing: even though your childhood has gone one way, you can jump that set of tracks and follow your own tracks.” It dawned on Nicole that she could make her own choices in life, ones different than her parents. It gave her hope for her future. Today Nicole works for a rape crisis center and with child protective services, where she shares her mentor Lorrie’s invaluable advice.

Everyone has the ability to make a difference in the life of a child

Take the time to reach out to people who made a difference for you by sending letters or phone calls of gratitude. Look for adults who can make a connection with your own children and become that mentor for them. And perhaps most importantly, look for opportunities to pay it back yourself. You can make a difference just by listening to a child, giving them a warm smile, spending time with them, or sharing how you can relate to their experience like the mom did for Nicole. I see this kind of effect all the time at my weekend retreats and summer camps with my campers and camp staff. And I also see it through being a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. Kids just need to know you see them, understand what they’re going through, and enjoy spending time with them. Sometimes just having someone treat you with dignity and respect can allow you to start seeing yourself in that higher light. Be that person for a child in your life.

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Read Dr. Jordan’s book, Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom For a Life Worth Living for how to support and mentor young women to become successful adults

Letters from My Grandfather

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