How to Live Forever Through Mentorship

I am a big fan of mentorship. Not the gentle kind of time-to-time mentoring moments, but the digging deep, get to the root type of honest counsel that my mentee really needs. Life shaking and hair-splitting conversations that lift a person to unexpected levels of either deep learning or deep depression. That is my mentoring style.

The good news is this-the M-word matters. There is an enduring connection that happens when an older, more established person, baby boomer, 80’s music lover (such as myself) comes face to face with a younger, millennial or Gen whatever, who is seeking sage acknowledgment if only to be told about the power of Bon Jovi and that you should never buy a Twisted Sister album.

I had two great mentors in my life. One was my college science professor, Dr. Anne Funkhouser whose indirect mentorship gave me opportunities to teach, to excel in science when I was not supposed to, and who gave me a boost of confidence to walk into any situation unafraid of the outcome. She taught me about the frogs of the amazon, her love of the environment (before it was sexy or necessary) and how important it was to just let stuff go. To breathe.

And then in my early years working in the healthcare field I leaned on Marian Jacobs, the first woman in Stockton to run her own PR firm. As the lead paragraph of her obituary read-Marian broke the glass ceiling even before women knew there was one. She was a maverick, kick-ass kind of gal, ahead of her time and was a phenom in marketing, promoting, and advancing a cause like no other. She was also tough, to the point, and a no-nonsense, get-your-act-together type of mentor.

Mariam taught me about expectation setting. About being your best, serving others and working harder than the guy (or girl) next to you, but to do so with a smile and unabashed style. She never let me slack, never allowed me to settle and when I did it was never pretty. She taught me about the value and importance of relationships and how to seek the good in everyone. She was a true feminist in every sense of the definition-but she probably never called herself one.

What I know is that Dr. Funkhouser and Marion will live forever. Their names are frequently repeated, their lessons I share often with others-passing on their advice and stories to the next generation of new mentees. In fact, Marian’s Rolodex (that is a list of personal addresses, not a watch) sits on my own desk. I look at it every day, fumble through the cascading names of people’s names and numbers it occupies telling me every time I hold it that I am embracing the wisdom of the years- my years with Marion. Yep, mentoring makes you live forever.

In general, the M-word is also about reciprocal sharing. Mentoring should always be a two-way street-give and take, ying and yang. While I believe I am building the characters of the next generation, that next generation is equally teaching me a thing or two-it might be more about snap chat and digital platforms than critical thinking skills, but it’s important to my knowledge base and to my youthfulness.

There is enormous power in older people investing in younger people. In the book by Marc Freedman on How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, he shows us why fostering relationships with younger generations makes us happier, healthier and more productive. My mentorship partnerships never fail to inspire me. To give me new insights. To make me happy.

Being present for the younger generation gives me a new lens in looking at situations and trends. I love how young people snap their fingers vs. clapping during a conference session, how they inspire a more whimsical balance on life and work, how they believe in causes and get behind them fervently.

Reciprocally, my generation might apply excitement about a new book (yes print), fiscal management or a learned session on the history of Vietnam, Civil Rights, Watergate, Aerosmith (when Steven Tyler was young) and the typewriter. (Yes, I own a 1942 Underwood.)

While I am not afraid of my mortality it is good to know that mentorship relationships in ways as I have just described will allow you to live forever.


Until next time,

Kristen Birtwhistle
Eleanor Project Founder