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When I started this mentorship program, I was at a low point. I felt out of sorts and overwhelmed at work. I got to a point in my career of which I had always dreamed—being the go-to person that everyone listened to or depended on to fix certain issues. However, with great power comes great responsibility and I constantly felt the pressure. I was terrified of not having the answers and had anxiety about falling from the top of the ladder right back onto the struggle bus. Full disclosure: I had some intense imposter syndrome. If you’ve never heard of it, it is defined as “a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”
When I saw the opportunity to become a mentor, I thought it would be a positive thing for me mentally and a way to give back to an institution that helped shape my career path and identity. “Okay,” I said to myself, “Even if I feel like I fail sometimes at knowing everything I should at work, I know that I can at least help someone wade through the politics of job searching, networking and just feeling secure in who they are as a human being.” And so, I volunteered and started a very amazing journey.
Once I began speaking with students, I found something very interesting—we all have a bit of imposter syndrome. During my conversations with my mentees, the two things I heard the most often were that networking is an intimidating thing and that they felt guilty for taking up a professional’s time because they felt they had nothing to offer in return.
Well, let me ease the mind of anyone who feels they have nothing to offer early in their career: you could not be more wrong. Mentoring has been just as beneficial to my confidence and mental health as it has for my mentees. Feeling like the mistakes I’ve made and lessons I have learned over the years can help someone else is extremely fulfilling. It also helped me realize that I know much more about “adulting” and my field than I gave myself credit for. I also feel like networking with young people who I feel have the drive to be successful will be beneficial in the future. I kept telling my students, “This isn’t quid pro quo right now. You never know what will happen down the road. Maybe one day I will even hit you up to get me an interview at your company when I am looking to make a move!”
As far as that big, scary word goes, I made it my mission to reframe what networking is with my mentees. To me, networking is just cultivating relationships with people you find are doing interesting things with their careers or studies, and then asking them intelligent questions and being genuinely interested in the answers. The rest just follows. To be honest, it is basic psychology—most people like talking about themselves and having a captive audience feels good. I can’t deny it felt great for me, because I have one of those overly technical careers that bores most people at dinner parties. It is so nice to get to talk to someone who wants to hear about it and know that what you are saying will benefit them.
Rarely, you may run into people that do not want to network. They may be the opposite of myself—they believe they figured everything out for themselves so other people should have to fight and figure it out for themselves too. Or perhaps they are just too busy or don’t think they have any wisdom to impart. That’s fine; the worst a new contact can say is no.
Another thing I discussed with one of my mentees was being a first-generation college student and feeling like your family just doesn’t understand the pressures you are under or how to be supportive. I experienced this firsthand and had to learn how to find that support and validation elsewhere. I found that the best way to do that is to network with professors and professionals you admire and to find peers that you can lean on. There’s that word again—networking. Of course, your family will be proud, but sometimes you need to know that someone who fully understands academia—or your field—is proud of your accomplishments. Finding your web of these people is one of the greatest experiences of your time in college and during your early career.
Being a mentor and tackling these fears around networking, confidence and validation helped me personally in all three of the aforementioned areas. I feel like I met some incredible people who will do great things and helped them on their journey. I know for sure they helped me feel a little less like an imposter, and for that I am eternally grateful.
If you’d like to volunteer to be a mentor for the 2022-2023 LSA Mentorship Program, please learn more here. Applications will be accepted until 12:00 p.m. on October 7.