On Jan. 23, 2011, Rebecca Lockhart was sworn in as the first female Speaker of the House. One week later, Jan. 30, 2011, I became the first Representative to be sworn by her. But it wasn’t the first time I had met Becky. In fact, I had known her for a decade and she had been a mentor and a friend to me as I got involved in politics for the very first time.
She helped me meet new people, learn the ropes of Utah’s electoral process and in many ways how to navigate the Utah Legislature. She never made me feel like she was too busy for me, and, even though my newbie questions likely made her want to roll her eyes, she never made me feel dumb for asking them.
Without any type of formal arrangement, Becky helped me learn to navigate Utah’s political system. Her mentorship is something that I will always treasure.
We know that human beings are hard-wired for connection. It is literally life-saving. Studies on baby monkeys and, sadly, on human babies in orphanages, have shown us that lack of connection in our earliest days can result in death. In adults, lack of connection is associated with higher rates of physical health problems, addiction, depression and cognitive decline.
Mentoring and being mentored — or learning from one another — is one important aspect of connection. Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you do not need a college degree to mentor. You do not need to make nouns and verbs agree. You do not need to achieve a certain level of income or education or career advancement. You do not need to be a certain age or ability level. You only need the willingness to reach out and share the things you have already learned.
Have you even seen a young child teach an even younger child how to tie their shoes? That’s mentoring. First-time mom struggling with breast-feeding? The type of support most highly correlated to success is not the midwife, doctor, nurse or lactation-consultant (although they can all be helpful), but a peer. Another mom willing to mentor her fellow traveler.
Mentoring does not have to be some kind of formal arrangement, although it can be. Men often have networks of informal mentoring that happen at work, on the golf course and in the gym, but women often have to be a more proactive in creating and nurturing those mentoring relationships.
Women in academia are becoming ever more aware of the need to mentor female students and faculty. Women in the workplace often struggle to find mentors, so it’s even more important that women in leadership avoid Queen Bee syndrome and reach out to nurture and mentor women more junior than they are. Moms with toddlers can mentor moms with newborns — or at least commiserate at the lack of sleep and clothes covered in spit-up. Parents of kids with disabilities can mentor parents who just learned that their child has a disability. The ways in which we can mentor are truly endless.
What if we spent the last 90 days of this decade not only looking for ways to mentor others but making a commitment to do at least one thing every day? What if we applauded other’s successes without jealousy? What if we celebrated those in our lives making small changes that could have large impacts? What if we practiced real listening and not just rattling off replies we formulated before we even heard the whole story? What if we asked for mentorship from someone we want to learn from? The worst that can happen is that you’ll be in the same place you are today.
A Quaker proverb says, “You lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll ascend together.” Imagine what could happen with 90 days of truly learning from each other. What a wonderful world it would be.
Holly Richardson is grateful from the many men, women and children who have taught and mentored her. She hopes to pay it forward.