Last week, I completed a four-week period of being a senior mentor. A role that I used to think needed substantial experience at life, or professionally to be in a position to pass on knowledge and guidance to younger impressionable people. In other words, I thought it was a role that only a 30-something year old person, with a full time job and a lot of experience would be able to fulfil.
I was wrong. In fact, I am glad I was wrong. Being a senior mentor was not dependent on age, but rather based on having a certain mentality and an enthusiasm to share whatever you felt worthy to pass on to positively impact young people. The age gap between myself and my group was only 3 years, but those few years did not stop them from listening or taking me seriously. In fact, it worked to my advantage. Not only was I able to relate to them but there also wasn’t a moment where I felt it was a formal job. The inclusive nature of the programme brought together people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities to learn from each other and share experiences.
Funnily enough, I was assigned a wave (a four-week period that covers the journey from the start to finish) a day before it started whilst my coworkers had known up to 3 months before. I remember that morning being extremely nervous and delaying as much as possible from leaving my mums car, because I felt I wasn’t ready. In hindsight, I realise the truth was I would never have felt “ready” to go. Delivering my first evening session on the topic of “Trust,” I knew I was as ready as could ever have been. It showed how able I was to quickly adapt to change and capable of fulfilling my role.
Looking back, I realise just how much my confidence grew as well as my skills in public speaking. For me, public speaking was something I dreaded every time I was faced with the opportunity. The words would stumble uncomfortably out of my mouth, and my hands would shake uncontrollably. However, from leading games with my group to addressing 70+ people with new information day in and out, I found myself no longer dreading talking in front of people and actually looking forward to it.
Another area that I used to have doubts in myself was in my ability to lead. The lack of opportunities in the past to lead had meant I was not aware of what my capabilities were. That soon changed when I found myself responsible for 12 young people, supporting them through their journey on the programme. I learnt that people will follow your lead when you appear ready and confident to deliver instructions and guidance. Whether it was keeping up their spirits during a 7 hour hike in the Peak District, or leading community visits that often dealt with sensitive topics, I found that with each new challenge and environment, I would find my stride to deliver and be comfortable in what I was doing. It was in those instances that I realised that I could lead and in fact lead successfully.
The long hours that you get to spend with your team means attachments are bound to happen. Their hopes, fears and dreams are shared with you over the four-week period and soon enough their successes become your own. The experience equips you with the ability to build and maintain relationships with people from different backgrounds. At the same time, you witness their own personal growth with their confidence and blossoming friendships with people they may have never been friends with outside the programme. A high moment for me during the programme was to witness one of my group members, who was incredibly shy and did not like performing in front of crowds, deliver a Dragons Den style pitch in front of an audience of 70+ people confidently (after coaching them a bit). Watching that success and the group’s development, not only made me feel proud, but also grateful to have been part of their journey to getting there.
There are of course problems that crop up here and there that require a quick response. From transport not turning up to making sure every single person is included and engaged to the sessions. These often require calmness, composure and thinking outside the box. A recipe for problem solving.
Overall, the experience of being a senior mentor cemented how much I enjoy working with young people and brought out, as well as strengthened, qualities within myself that I didn’t realise I had. It is something I would do again if I was presented with the opportunity and would encourage others to do so.
Written by Canisha Chakadya