Doesn’t it seem like forever since you’ve heard someone say, “Respect your elders”? It seems as if that fine piece of wisdom, once so prevalent in my youth, has disappeared completely.
Oh well, maybe it’s for the best that we stop forcing people to respect their elders.
In fact, what we should be doing is encouraging our children to listen to their elders. After all, time and experience are the best adversaries to indecision and ignorance. Listening to those who have lived their lives to the fullest is perhaps the best education one can ever have.
And this is the reason that seniors should become mentors; to teach and to listen and to teach some more. It doesn’t matter where you are now physically; whether you’re still active and independent and even if you’ve made the move to assisted living, your voice can still make a big difference to someone who needs a little guidance.
Bottom Line? You have the power to educate through your wisdom, your successes and of course, your failures.
Narrowing down the exact definition of a mentor isn’t easy. A mentor can be an advisor, someone who shares knowledge, who shapes another’s future, who teaches, a preceptor and/or a counselor. Perhaps one of the reasons it is difficult to define the word is because no two mentor relationships are alike. As unique as people are, so too are the unique needs of the one seeking mentorship, and in turn, the relationship forged between the mentor and mentee.
We have all heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Thinking back to the days before industrialization, which for all its benefits, split families up as grown-ups left the clan in search of better jobs. Back in the day, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and cousins as well as neighbors helped raise kids. The result was a well-rounded child with loads of self-esteem who was ready to take on the world. Nowadays with parents shouldering the child-rearing, kids are perhaps academically prepared for college and beyond, but lack that same well-roundedness that is only possible when influences come from different perspectives and experiences.
This is where a mentor can help. A mentor may not be a substitute for the entire clan, but it’s a start.
For a young person who faces a fork in the road, making the right choice may come down to something as “scientific” as a toss of the coin or asking an equally confused peer for advice. Indeed most youths have parents at home, however, things aren’t what they used to be. Unlike the days when dad worked and mom was at home waiting for us when we returned from school, nowadays both parents work and by the time they are home, kids have been home for hours – making a series of decisions without the guidance of an adult.
As pre-teens and teens grow to become young adults, both in college and beyond, the tough choices just change but they don’t go away. Now faced with difficult decisions about which college is best or what career choices to consider, sometimes mom and dad could use some help. This is not to suggest that mom and dad don’t have the answers, but parents want what they feel is best for their kids. This is not always in line with what suits their child’s interests and personality. Moms and dads are practical and don’t want their kids struggling to make a living – especially if making ends meet is already a challenge for the parents. Nobody wants that for his or her child and as a result, parents often try to steer their kids in directions that are not always congruent with what their kids necessarily want.
Without even knowing you, my answer would be yes. You didn’t get to be your age by accident. You have the scrapes on the knees, the grey hair and the ability to reflect on your past accomplishments to prove it. Whether you opted not to have kids or you have adult kids and grandkids, having raised kids of your own is not a requirement. Whether you never finished college or you went on to get an advanced degree, education is not a requirement. Whether you were CEO of your company or never worked a day outside the home, the corporate experience is not a requirement.
At this point, you are probably shaking your head and wondering if I have lost my mind. What makes a good mentor, if education, work experience, and child-rearing experience aren’t requirements?
Now, do you possess those qualities? Did you not make it to 60, 70, 80 or beyond and did you not learn a lot about life along the way? When you see a young person who clearly is floundering, who just needs a little direction, push and maybe a little self-esteem and assurance, does it not make you want to do something – anything? When I phrase it like that, do you see in yourself what others have always seen in you?
Not sure where to start? Check out the boys and girls clubs of America, and big brothers big sisters.