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Unintentional but not accidental

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

As an Enneagram Type 7, I was always changing directions in my own life so how could I possibly take on the task of helping guide someone else?

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. In my wildest dreams, especially at that point in my life, I never imagined myself as an intentional mentor.

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 grandiose idea that I would have a long term, life altering influence on a forth grade child. Honestly, I wasn’t excited about this program. A friend of mine was a teacher and begging people to volunteer at her school to help children who were struggling to read. She assured me 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 to help 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 an enneagram 7’s vocabulary. However, the first few weeks were anything but fun and I began thinking we were both in a for long, agonizing, not fun year.

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.

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.

Look at me! I was a guiding influence in another person’s life. Was I actually a mentor?

We 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, “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, he threw his little arms around me and hugged me tight. Yes, I had unintentionally become a mentor.

I have often wondered, now 25 plus 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 empowered him to travel this road on his own.

Fate had given me the gift of being one small, but important, part in that one child’s life and he gave me the gift of the realization that it was no accident we were a part of each other’s lives.

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 made you think…”wow — I had no idea they even read anything I shared”? We are all influencing the lives around us even when we think no one is paying attention.

I do want to make a positive impact on people and I truly strive to understand my influence but 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.

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, ‘look at the positive’, sunny attitude which almost no one rejected (until I was told there’s such a thing as ‘toxic positivity’.) 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 affirm 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.

Unintentional? Perhaps. Accidental? As Napoleon Bonaparte says, “There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed.”


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