I love cycling. I love climbing hills and the sense of accomplishment when I make it to the top, even if the way up is unforgiving. I love finding scenic detours that I would have whizzed right by if driving in a car. I even have a soft spot in my heart for lycra.
Several years and a series of moves later, I realized that cycling had become little more than a long lost friend. Though I wanted to get back into the sport, I needed someone to push me out of my comfort zone and back onto the bike. It just so happened that the particular someone who pushed me to get back into riding came by way of a fellow military spouse, who I was actually mentoring. I decided to give mentoring a try at the urging of a friend, who was actively engaged in a new, innovative mentoring program online called eMentor. The program seemed like a new approach to an age-old concept! Instead of the old-fashioned way to find a mentor (which by the way can be very difficult for a military spouse who is moving so frequently), this program took the legwork out of having to do all of the research and cold calling! Instead, it aimed to accommodate the military community, which may be located anywhere in the world. I was super impressed that there was an entire mentoring site designed specifically for military spouses and female service members to find mentors from across the world based on their desired outcomes.
In no time, I was matched with a newly wed military spouse eager to learn about the military lifestyle and how to effectively create a career she loved. As time progressed, I shared more about my experiences moving around and my long lost love, cycling. In addition to bonding over the obstacles and shared struggles of military life, we found a common interest in cycling. As we talked about the difficulty of staying active in cycling while moving around, my protégé inspired me to get back on my bike, all in the midst of discussing a variety of other military-related topics. It was after one particular telephone appointment and a few follow-up emails with my protégé that I decided to get back into cycling full force with a race (that just so happened to be free to the military community and on post…talk about good timing)!
I realize cycling isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time (even though I think it should be)–but the point is that there is so much to gain from the mentor/protege relationship. Most of us have a tendency to think of a mentor as a giver of time, resources, knowledge, advice, and energy; yet, what I have gained from the relationship I have built with my protégé is just as valuable as the guidance and perspective I give her; and what I have learned is more than just how out of shape I had become. I also learned more about…
The Military Spouse Sisterhood
Though my protégé is located over a thousand miles away from me, we have been able to communicate through an online portal eMentor provides. I can keep track of her goals and help to hold her accountable, and she and I can communicate via email. Good mentoring relationships establish the mentor’s and protégé’s expectations, parameters and the goal for the relationship. We use these tools, as well as phone calls and emails to stay connected and encourage each other. As a mentor, I have been encouraged by my protégé’s willingness to learn about military life, and it has reinforced my own need to get back to the basics of what it means to be in a military marriage.
Knowing it All…or Thinking You Have To
When I received training to become a career coach, I learned the importance of asking the right questions—not providing what I think are the “right” answers. This is true for the mentoring relationship too. If I knew it all, I would not have needed my own mentors when I was a newlywed, and I wouldn’t continue to need them as I journey on. I had a misconception that I had to know everything there ever was to know about military installations, the history of each branch and which commissary was the best—but it’s more about listening to what someone’s needs and goals are than spoon feeding answers. You don’t have to know it all, but you do have to possess a desire to help someone slightly less experienced than yourself in a certain area of life.
The Value in Hearing Someone Else’s Story
Too often, it seems military spouses feel like the only one who is going through a trial or challenge. I certainly feel that way at times. Hearing someone else’s story serves as a reminder that we are all in this together, and we must support each other to truly thrive—and a great way to do that is to become a mentor yourself.
What it Means to be a Mentor
The eMentor program itself really set a great standard for me and took the guesswork out of what I could and should do to best assist my protégé. From a personal online journal to keep track of milestones, to tutorials and forums, I didn’t feel like I was just out there on my own. Mentoring can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
As I continue to serve as a military spouse mentor, my hope is that I can support my protégé as much as she has me. I highly encourage everyone to consider becoming a mentor to a military spouse—whether married to a service member or not. I am often asked by civilian friends a colleagues what they can do to support the military, and this is one key way to do just that.