Blog Contributor: Cassidy Flynn, Learning Coordinator at the Network for Strong Communities and YNPN St. Louis Board Member
It was on an ordinary day in the spring of my freshmen year that I unknowingly met my college mentor. I had plans to get lunch with my friends after their acting class. I met them just as their class was being dismissed. At the time, a friend of ours worked at Panera Bread Company and brought bagels to their class. He offered one to me, I politely declined and simultaneously bastardized one of my favorite quotes saying, "No thanks, Adam. I'm golden, Ponyboy." Without skipping a beat, the alleged professor of the class spun around and said with utter surprise and a hint of sass…
"How do you know that reference?"
"I read the book in middle school," I said.
"Oh. I would've thought you'd only known it from the film," she sassily added.
"Nope. I read the book,” I repeated blankly.
"It's a good book. The Outsiders," she replied.
"Hi, I'm Cassidy."
As I reflect on our origin story, I’m reminded of Mr. Ollivander explaining wandlore to a young Harry Potter. “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” In this case, the mentee was the wand and the mentor was the wizard. My admiration of her wit, gravitas, and taste in literature sealed my fate. I had chosen my mentor.
I will concede that I knew more about Sarah before this moment, which is an integral part of selecting a mentor. She was an accomplished actor, director, and professor and her course load included some of my favorite fields of study (Shakespeare, Dialects, Directing). My admiration for her body of work, expertise, and personality were all contributing factors. In a very cosmic way, I had already made my decision. She was going to be my mentor. The next step was essentially the last - cultivate the relationship.
For many people this step is the hardest. How do I navigate the relationship without seeming opportunistic or overzealous? How do I balance professionalism and friendship? I trusted that if friendship were to unfold, it would do so organically - as long as I was being my authentic self. So more intentionally, I set out to demonstrate my interest in her curriculum and knowledge. I worked especially hard to excel in her classes. I reached out to her for professional advice. I took advantage of apprenticeship opportunities and served as her assistant director on two occasions. Throughout all of this, I took notes, I asked questions, I watched, and I listened.
In essence, the pursuit of mentor in some some ways (but certainly not all), is like dating. There is no blueprint. However, when you find someone who you admire and look up to, I encourage you to take the reigns of your professional future and make the first “move” so to speak. And remember to ask yourself the big questions. What kind of career do I want have in five, ten, and/or twenty years? Who are the seasoned professionals with careers that resemble my goals? How can I engage with a seasoned professional about the work?
If you lay the groundwork, maintain authenticity, and be persistent yet polite, you may also experience this legendary moment.