Mentoring changed my life. Don’t get me wrong – I come from a stable household and I was generally a happy person. Being the elder sibling, part of my job was to serve as an exemplary model to my younger sister of what hard work and dedication look like. My role models have always been both my parents, and so I wanted my sister to learn from us. In order to do that I needed a game plan as I entered high school. It just so happens to be that I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like, nor where I wanted to go to college, let alone what I wanted to do for a career. That all changed when I was introduced to my mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City in my freshman year.
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of youth mentoring these days and much of that is centered around the importance of helping young men and women of color achieve their potential. Just recently NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an expansion of the city’s Mentors Matter initiative to push forward that goal. This is no doubt mentorship opens doors for people of color. I should know. But we don’t talk nearly enough about how it does that. And, for me, it boils down to one thing: trust. It’s the reason my mentor became like a second father to me.
I am where I am today due to the extensive skills I was able to develop during my mentorship and where I’ve been able to overcome challenges that never crossed my mind of accomplishing. Being able to work in one of the world’s largest Asset Managers such as BlackRock and now taking my skills to ClearBridge Investments proves the determination I have for accomplishing more in life. Serving as the president of the Economics and Finance Society and Co-founder of a student led Hedge Fund at my college, have been accomplishments I’ve set for myself. Building a foundation of trust with my mentor has been the same for my members in building trust towards my leadership. Every mentoring program – whether it’s through a city or a nonprofit organization – should instill that one key lesson into their mentors and mentees.
My mentor taught me a lot of things – from learning how to give a proper handshake and writing a good email, to critical interpersonal skills. One thing he taught me came towards the close of our program with BBBS of NYC where guest speakers came to our session and spoke with us about career paths. Through the session most of the littles stayed quiet, including myself. I had many questions. What interests made you choose this career? What types of licenses were needed for your role? Yet, I held back from asking because part of me did not want to sound or appear ignorant among these titans of their industries.
Afterwards, my mentor pulled me aside and said to me: “Never be afraid to ask questions in this world.” He explained to me that you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from others in the business field. When there’s so much competition for jobs, the right question could be the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and can lead you to an open door with newer opportunities. That really stood out to me. It was not only great advice that would serve me well throughout high school and into college, but it proved to me again that this was a man who had my best interests at heart. It would have been easy for him to take my silence as a sign of a nervous kid. Instead, he took the time to steer me in the right direction. If I didn’t already know before, I knew that I could trust my mentor to look out for me.
A mentee must have trust that their mentor is going to take their role seriously. The same holds true on the opposite end of the spectrum. Introducing yourself to a mentor can be a nerve wracking process. Will I be good enough? What if I’m not what they are expecting? These are the kind of thoughts that ran through my head in the days leading up to my match with BBBS of NYC. I could have listened to those fears but I knew that if this experience was to work, I had to give my mentor a reason to trust me – that I was going to respect the time he was putting in to teach me. Trust works both ways.
Trust has been an important piece of my life. I was hesitant transferring high schools into my first semester of my freshman year since I felt it was not the best fit for me. However, My counselor convinced me to give it another year. Little did I know that staying was the best decision I’ve made and working out for me, ranking me top of my class. Would that have happened if I chose the easy way out? Would I have even met my mentor? I’ll never know the answer to those questions but I am glad I put trust in myself just as my mentor trusted in me.
As I approach the end of my college studies, I’ve grown to learn key skills that I now use daily while attending meetings or simply having a casual conversation. I no longer shy away from questions, rather question the decisions made from all different approaches in the corporate world. I continue to polish my skills everyday and challenge myself with different adventures, but always remembering where it all started and that has been through the power of mentorship with my mentor.