Every career book I read in my twenties warned me that I had to find a mentor—that highly placed successful woman (or man) who would anoint me as worthier than my peers and champion my name in high-level meetings. So at work I cozied up to the fashion-magazine harridans (who made Miranda Priestly seem as cute and giggly as the Pillsbury Doughboy) and tried to turn my job—translating their thoughts into bons mots for the fashion pages—into a relationship. Alas, no mentor magic. At another magazine, which was partly French owned, I offered a cheery “Can do!” to a Paris-based boss who ordered me to find her an “automatic pooper scooper” in New York. Though I did actually send one, she never took me into the back room in Paris to give me the secret mentor handshake. I finally approached an older -editor I admired and told her, jokingly, that Iwas adopting her as my official mentor just so I could check the box.
Truth was, I’d done pretty well flying solo, so I never gave mentoring another thought. That is, until my friend Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nongovernmental organization that provides training and mentoring for emerging women leaders around the world, asked me to join the Global Ambassadors Program. She was taking seven high-powered businesswomen to Brazil as mentors and wanted me to join the group. My mentee would be Lina Maria Useche Jaramillo, 29, a social entrepreneur who supports businesses that put low-income women to work. Though unsure what I could contribute, I went along.
For five days, the seven mentors—including two brilliant finance experts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which underwrites the Global Ambassadors Program—holed up in a São Paulo hotel and crunched the numbers, reworked the marketing plans and edited the websites of seven astonishing female entrepreneurs. I showed Lina how to make her website more engaging, and she showed me a thing or two about guts and grit. We mentors loved connecting with these dynamic Brazilian women—and also with one another.
If you get the chance to mentor in any way, do it; you’ll be surprised how much you have to give and what you might get back. To see Vital Voices (and me) in action on this trip, go to more.com/vitalvoices. And please share your own mentoring experiences on our Facebook page.
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