For those of you that don't know me very well (or at all) I set out to be a high school English teacher upon graduating from my beloved alma mater of Emmanuel College. When I did my student teaching practicum at a small charter school in Brighton, I had several eye-opening experiences with students. For one, there were students that just DNGAF. For another, there were students that gave many F's but had to struggle immensely just to get to school everyday, like the one who took 2 trains and a bus just to get to school and was getting straight As. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the college students I work with now.
When graduation loomed near, I had a choice - use my hard-earned teacher's license in Secondary Education and English Literature (summa cum laude, Distinction in the Field what what!), or pursue a graduate degree in School Counseling. I felt very strongly that I would prefer to work with students on-on-one, so I did what every naive 22 year old with no concept of debt (free ride what what) would do. I applied to graduate school!
I got into UMass and NYU. Mind you, NYU had always been my dream school. I often balked at my high school's upperclassmen's decisions to choose Rutgers over NYU. I thought they were nuts, I mean, why wouldn't you go there?
Oh yeah, Money. So, fool that I am, I chose my absolute dream school and prepared for life in the much bigger city of NYC after living in Boston for four years. At the cool price of $47k per year, I got set up with on-campus housing and tuition!
I moved into my NYU-provided studio apartment on West 3rd street in the Village with my awesome new roommate who was studying journalism. I transferred all of my amazing dorm room furniture (tiny collapsible coffee table, check. Hippie tapestries, check. Bjork poster, check) into my new digs.
I must say, grad school was AWESOME! It felt less like school and more like, reading all this awesome info and feeling amazing all the time about wanting to change the world and help others. My internship at a small charter school on the Lower East Side introduced me to one of the best supervisors ever and helped me solidify my love for working with students. I was killin' it!
After realizing that my dorm was a ridiculous amount of money, I moved with my best friend to Williamsburg and led the hipster high life for a while. I even worked at the Chocolate Cafe at Saks Fifth Avenue (in addition to coat checking at Rififi and Underbar)! I could still stay up until 4 am on Thursdays. I barely had any commitments. The world was my oyster.
Then, I graduated.
And there were....
It's called a DOE hiring freeze! How convenient! I didn't want to move to NJ yet (it felt like giving up at the time), so I sucked it up and took a temp job at medical communications and pharma marketing agency I had worked at previously during my grad school years. I thought it was temporary. Then they offered me full time. Still no counseling job and them loans started kicking in, so I took it. Because mama can't pay two rents (student loan payment=almost as much as rent, d'oh!)
Fast forward to 3 years later. I'd been promoted from Coordinator to Program Director, I'd administered a $500,000 cardiovascular grant program project for a major pharmaceutical company, built a website, and done tons of other amazing things, even foraying into digital media. I was kicking butt at a job that made me feel dead inside. I felt a cosmic depression. Like I had failed for the first time in my life because I wasn't doing something that mattered (to me). I wasn't helping students, I was helping clients sell drugs. It made me really disappointed in myself, even though I actually loved my coworkers, was doing really well and getting promoted and raises. (See blog title).
I beat myself up, thinking I should have tried harder to get a counseling job. If I had only gotten 16 more credits, I could have opened my own practice (forehead slap). I would go through bouts of sad high school career fairs, being told that NYU's program paled in comparison to Hunter's by snobby interviewers, and sending my resume to anyone who could read. I thought I didn't try hard enough, but when a later examination of my Dropbox revealed over 75 cover letters and a spreadsheet of application statuses, I realized I was just being hard on myself. (See blog title).
While I worked at this job, I did do something right - I volunteered. I knew I had to stay connected to my passion and purpose in life, or I would truly be depressed.
I worked as a mentor with Women's Expressive Theater's now sadly defunct Risk Takers Film Series Program for three years. It was amazingly beautiful and I miss it so much. If I had no bills I would quit my job and go work for WET for free!
I also had some minor stints with Girls, Inc. mentoring, and tutoring at 826 NYC. These programs required a large time commitment and I was working long hours and I was starting to feel the affects of burning out at my job (holla to stress-related auto-immune disorders!). I subsequently decided that I needed to find a better balance so I didn't burn out, or go even crazier than I already was.
I did some research and found about about Mentoring USA and was really excited about their flexible and convenient schedule. I only had to volunteer once every two weeks, for 1.5 hours. That's NOTHING! And it was in Chelsea, right by a decent Gristedes and Duane Reade, so why the heck not!
It's now been almost 4 years, a career change, and an inter-state move since I was matched with my mentee, and I am still able to fit mentoring into my life. We forged a bond over 3 years, doing crafts and getting hot cocoa and Pinkberry. I watched her grow from a little spitfire who would clear the Monopoly board with her tiny fist when she wasn't winning, into a teen Bielieber with a deadpan sense of humor and striking maturity. I got to watch her graduate from Middle School and we now catch up on the latest Catholic school drama every two weeks on Google+ hangouts and Twitter.
Coming from my education and counseling background, I initially approached the relationship from a learning-outcomes/task-oriented perspective. What I learned very quickly, is that mentoring isn't a one-size-fits-all process or a collection of exercises and lessons. It is simply a relationship. I found that all I had to do was be a dependable, caring adult that listened attentively to what my mentee had to say. One of my favorite quotes:
Now that I work in student affairs, I don't feel the bottomless chasm of despair that needed to be filled with changing young lives, but mentoring is still very important to me. I have formed such a great bond with my mentee, that I can't imagine stopping any time soon. I want to see her graduate from high school and see her wedding pictures. I want to see her become a mentor to someone else.
The takeaway from this long, drawn-out story, is that mentoring and volunteering while in my non-fulfilling job gave me fuel and fire to pursue my dream career. I stayed connected to my classmates from NYU and reached out to anyone who would listen for job and resume advice. One NYU classmate told me I'd be great for higher ed, and another was already working in the field and helped me with my resume. I'm so grateful to both of them for keeping me motivated.
John Lennon had it right when he said "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." Even better as my brother put it once, "Life is what happens when you're making excuses."
Being a mentor keeps me grounded and connected. Sometimes when I feel despairing in my work, or burnt out, I know that I am a role model for my mentee and all of my students and that we can inspire each other. Seeing them learn and grow is the greatest feeling in the world and I am lucky to get to experience it through my volunteer work and career!
Nice to meet you!
I am a tech pro, blogger, DIY'er, reader, TV binger, music lover, nerd and semi-crunchy mom. I write about professional development, being crafty, motherhood and politics. Thanks for joining me and letting me share my thoughts with you!