I never thought about how important it was to be a mentor. I grew up in Santa Clara during the 60’s with younger and older kids surrounding me. There were eight kids in my family and that is where I first learned about helping one another. I didn’t know what mentoring meant – I just knew what was right. I knew the satisfaction I received from guiding my siblings into something new or through something difficult. I didn’t realize that all this time, older kids in my neighborhood were coaching me also. Naturally our parents were the first to counsel us, but as I soon found out, they were pretty busy themselves. Of course our school educators had their hands full teaching every day and being a mentor to hundreds of students.
I can recall going to the playgrounds at the Pomeroy and Curtis schools every day to learn a new sport. We would watch the older kids on the grassy fields and try to emulate their skills in each sport they played. We were fortunate because it seemed our best athletes were always there for us, teaching us to be better. So that’s what mentoring was about. I just didn’t know it then. Thanks to all mentors who shared their skills with us. We all learned in small groups until we were chosen to advance to the next stage when our skills improved. We eventually became mentors as we guided younger kids in sports. More important to most is that we were setting good examples on just being good people.
My first experience with someone who would not be considered a good mentor came about when I was going to begin attending Buchser High School. I was thirteen years old and I was excited about going to high school. I walked the few blocks to my new school and was watching an older 18-year-old boy running on the track. As a youngster, all I did was run and I loved it. I watched in awe as he glided smoothly and effortlessly around the track. Without a care in the world, he ran swiftly in his new track shoes while proudly wearing his school uniform. He was tall, maybe 6 feet while I was barely 5 feet 6 inches. I was in worn out jeans and tennis shoes and as he passed me, I suddenly had the urge to get behind him. I started running, keeping my distance of at least thirty yards between us. What a nice feeling of running behind this older and more experienced runner. After running a lap around the track the boy looked over his shoulder and observed me, an annoying youngster running stride for stride with him. Of course he had to show his skill and so he quickened his pace. It was easy for me to run at this new pace, so he upped the challenge and began running faster. I had to smile because I knew I was now annoying him by running closer at his heels. Now what could be running through his mind – he wasn’t able to run faster than this young gnat. He finally slowed to a walk and I also slowed. I was expecting some type of praise but he was not going to be my new mentor. He stopped and turned to address me, “Hey kid! What are you doing on my track?” I honestly thought I had done something wrong and so I apologized. “I’m sorry. I am coming to school here soon and I like to run. I’ve never run on a track and you made it look fun.” He replied in anger, “This is my track, get off and never come back!” Well I did just that, never to set foot on the track for two years because it was his track and I was taught to respect my elders. I had never run a timed mile but decided when I was 15 years old that I was going to have my best friend time me. So once again I flew like the wind, in my bare feet, running because it felt good. My time was 4 minutes and 12 seconds. Recently I thought about that older boy and how he was not a very good mentor but he could have been. I was too young to know about mentoring then, but I do now.
When you are a mentor you impart your knowledge and experience to guide someone to better themselves. They will sometimes make mistakes but a good teacher will guide them to learn from their mistakes. We should occasionally stop and think of important people who have guided us in our life. Who have you helped, given advice and counseled in your life? The satisfaction in both giving and receiving is immeasurable and can last a lifetime.
Mission City Voices