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The Accidental Mentor

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

What constitutes a mentor? The simple definition is: anyone who is a guiding influence in another person's life….a guide, teacher, coach or adviser. Some are intentional mentors and some take a more circuitous path becoming an unintentional mentor or what I thought myself to be, an accidental mentor. I find the idea of being a mentor a bit daunting and never set out on a path to learn the ins and outs of earning that title nor taking on the commitment and responsibility. As an Enneagram Type 7, I was always changing directions in my own life…how could I possibly take on the task of helping guide someone else?

I did, however, participate in a mentoring program for elementary students. The only requirement to qualify for that role was that I could read and that, I could do. I didn’t have any lofty idea that I would have a long term, life altering influence on a forth grade child. Honestly, I wasn’t really that excited about this project. A friend of mine was a teacher and was begging people to volunteer at her school to help children who were struggling to read. She assured us that it was just one child, just one hour, just one day a week. I didn’t accept this invitation with a passion for making some child’s life better. I basically said, ‘sure, why not’. Friend guilt, am I right? I was assigned a boy. I didn’t know him and he didn’t seem too excited about being stuck with me. But, as I typically face any new task, I wanted to make it fun. Fun is a recurring word in a type 7’s vocabulary. However, day one was not fun and I left thinking I was in a for long, excruciating year. But guess what happened? Over time, I witnessed a small, self-conscious boy beam with excitement when he saw me walk though the door. He had my full attention each Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 and the fear that other kids would hear him stumble through reading a book was gone for that one hour of one day a week. It was just me and him. As each week passed I found myself looking forward to our time together and as he became more confident in his reading skills I became aware that I truly was making a difference in this one child’s life. The mentors were invited to attend the class end of year party and I was excited to take him a gift to celebrate his success. When he unwrapped his gift, Dr. Seuss’s “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, he threw his little arms around me hugged me tight. I had become a mentor. I have often wondered, now 25 years later, if that little boy still has that book or even remembers our time together. The truth is, I don’t need to know because that’s not what mentoring is about. My role was to guide him in a direction that he was empowered to travel. Life gave me the gift of being one small but important part in that one child’s life even though I never set out to be such but I know for sure, it was no accident.

What if we walked through each day assuming we are mentors? Would it change the words we choose? If you knew a young boy or girl was going to mimic your life would it make you think before you posted on social media? Has someone, a friend or past associate, someone you haven’t heard from or thought about in years ever commented on one of your posts and the shock of seeing their name make you think…”wow - I had no idea they even read anything I shared”? Well, it’s happened to me! We are all influencing the lives around us even when we think no one is paying attention.

When someone tells me…”I remember when you said ______ and it really made a difference in my life”, I’m truly surprised! Sometimes I don’t even remember the conversation where I said it. I want to make a positive impact on people and I truly strive to understand my influence on my family and friends but then when someone actually tells me I did, I used to shift into what my husband calls “disclaimer mode” where I began downplaying my contribution. It’s not that I’m humble, it’s that I’m afraid…or I used to afraid. It’s one thing to mentor a child who doesn’t know anything about my life but when someone tells you point blank…”I look to you as a mentor” that’s what we call a ‘whole ‘nother thing’!

For many years I signed each email with the quote….”Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure”. Then one day I stopped focusing on the word ‘fear’ and looked at the word ‘powerful’. That someone might actually be looking to me for guidance had, for many years, been terrifying. “How could someone with my lack of credentials or a history of less than mentor-worthy choices be used to help others?” was the question I constantly had playing in the back of my mind. I hid my worth behind the comfort of my humor and carefree, sunny attitude which almost no one rejected. (I say ‘almost’ because believe it or not, all situations do not call for a positive spin. This type 7 learned that lesson the hard way!) I used to believe the lie of my inadequacy and let the fear of what embracing that power might reveal. I let doubt steer the ship. Until, I didn’t.

Why wouldn’t I be intentional about claiming that power? If all of my experiences have only been to reaffirm that I’m not worthy of contributing to the healing of others then why bother believing my life matters at all? If I’m reduced to being an accidental mentor or accidental anything then I would need to change the quote to “My greatest fear is that I truly am inadequate and that I am helpless beyond measure.” I might be wrong (I’m not) but no one is inspired by that!

No one wants a tour guide who has never been on the trail before. No one hires a football coach who has never played the game before. And no one wants a mentor who doesn’t have first hand experience in failure, pain and loss but has taken the steps to overcome. Someone needs your heart, your story, your guidance. From one of my favorite stories in the bible - the story of queen Ester….”And who knows but that you have come to your {royal} position for such a time as this?” Your being here is not accidental…you are here for such a time as this.

#Enneagram #Enneagram7 #Mentor #Influencer #BookofEsther #ForSuchATimeAsThis #ThereAreNoAccidents


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