By Kathryn McDaniel Nenning
Mentoree. Wait, no, it’s Mentoree. No, still not right: Mentoree. No, that’s definitely not a
word. Why can’t I say this word? Nicole gently corrects me – mentee. Oh, Mentee! I am a
Mentee! Wait, I am a Mentee? That can’t be right, but I run the two words through my head again. Mentor. Mentee. Yes, those are the two choices. And I am standing behind Door Number 2.
How did that happen?!
I am accomplished! I am a leader! I have lots of experience! (No, I am not going to tell you exactly how much experience, then you would think I am old and not want to give me a job, but believe me, I have a lot of really quite excellent experience.) I should be mentoring people, not the other way around. Right? Well, no. Wrong.
How does one do a really good job at being a Mentee?
I don’t have a big ego, I can admit when I need help, I believe life has many stages and they are all worthwhile stages, even the in-between, transitional stages, like the one in which I currently find myself. So I take a deep breath – I am a Mentee.
I embrace the idea of being a Mentee. That’s easy, as I have an excellent Mentor in the PWN Mentor Program, which in itself is excellent, offering a lot of resources and support to all participants – mentors and mentees alike. But how does one do a really good job at being a Mentee? Because believe me, I am going to be the best mentee there has ever been. For better or worse, that has always been my approach – give me a task, and I want to be the best at it.
(And in fact, this has not always worked out for the better. After we had our first child, I was going to be the best Mother – yes, mother with a capital M – in the History of Motherhood. You can guess how that went over; my son unfortunately had not embraced the idea of being the best Son in the history of Son-hood, but that’s a story for another day.)
But back to being a Mentee. The mechanics are easy. Explain my goal to my mentor and ask for advice, take advice, reach goal. And this part is easy – I have a clearly defined goal (get a job!), and even know the broad outline of how to get there. But the problem isn’t in the outline I write, but in that squishy how-do-I-identify-myself space hovering between Roman Numeral I and II. To get a job one must profess to have skills and expertise, with recent, concrete, examples. So how did I prove my ‘talents and skills’ when my experience in Corporate America (in NYC, nonetheless!) are 16 years in the past? And all my experience since then – 10 years running a start up (after a pause to be the greatest mother in the world), and then teaching Business English and doing editing work – while leaving me with a long list of transferable skills - does not translate into the ‘three years experience in Corporate Communications’ listed on every job posting. Arghh!
I spend my days feeling like one of those holograms you used to get in the bottom of a
cereal box that changes depending how you bend it – ‘excellent multi-talented leader with years of experience’/‘newbie with absolutely no experience in the new field I wish to
transition to’. And this just keeps repeating in my head in an endless loop – Yay - ‘e m-t l
w/YoE’; then Darn - ‘n w/no ab-fab E’. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
So where does this leave me? I am a Mentee, so I take the advice, diligently. I make lists, I
write outlines, I up my LinkedIn-networking game. And I embrace being two things at once – a professional with years of experience, and a beginner ready to dive into a new career, and my new identity: Experienced-multi-talented-newbie.
And slowly, slowly, with the help of my mentor I make progress. Baby steps, one-step forward, fall down, get-up and try again progress. I come to each meeting with tasks
completed since our last meeting. My old identity falls away and a new one begins to form. I embrace some ideas and fight others, and I realize that some ideas that I thought I had embraced I had actually outright rejected, or at least ignored. My recent ‘huge’ epiphany in mid-February, when I decided to rewrite my resume as a ‘Corporate Communications’ expert? My mentor suggested that in our very first meeting – October 18th. (I know this because I have it in my outline of the notes from our first meeting. There are always outlines.) My mentor is clearly a Saint – capital ‘S’.
My old identity falls away and a new one begins to form. I embrace some ideas and fight others.
Today is March 25th. We are in Day 11 (by my count) of Corona-quarantine and I am, at the advice of my mentor, finally crafting articles to build up my portfolio of recent, concrete examples of my writing. Stay tuned!
About the author
Kathryn Nenning, an American married to an Austrian, spent the first 18 years of her career working in sales and marketing for large corporations in New York City. After having her first child, she and her husband decided to move to Vienna where the quality of life was more conducive to raising a family. After giving birth to her second child she started her own business making a baby carrier, and ran it for 10 years, distrbuting her product in large chain stores such as kika/Leiner, as well as many smaller, family-owned business. She currently works as a copy editor and teaching business English.