I had these preconceived ideas about mentorship—that it is all about helping and guiding people. At the Pravah workshop, we learned it differently. Mentorship is beyond guidance, it is more like nurturing. Also, as mentors we generally tend to speak more, but the workshop emphasized the importance of listening. It is also something I have started to follow in my personal and professional life. In the beginning, I was assigned three mentees; all of us are exchange alumni from various programs run by the U.S. Department of State. Talking about and sharing our exchange experiences helped us become close. With time, their initial shyness went away and it became free-flowing from both sides.
While it really clicked very well with one, my second mentee stayed in touch for some time before it faded away, and with the third mentee, it never took off to begin with. Even during the workshop, we got to spend less than an hour with our mentees, which is insufficient. One of the biggest challenges to sustain these relationships during and after the program has been the distance. It was perhaps the reason why other mentees with their busy schedules could not keep up. Being far from each other, we don’t get to meet, and one cannot keep the relationship alive only through email, chat or text.
For a mentor-mentee relationship to work, both parties need to have faith in each other or it cannot be sustained, and to a large degree that comes from within. My role during the program was to boost their morale, give them the confidence. Most of the times, their challenge lies in how to get started. With the mentees where it did not work, I did my bit, followed up and eventually realized the importance of letting go. With Zenith, it was helping her figure out what she wants in life. People already have an idea, it is a matter of discovering what is already within. Her new organization is doing very well and I am quite proud of her that way.
In the three months since, Zenith has become more confident. While she was quiet and introverted during the opening workshop, she has now become outspoken and frank in sharing her thoughts. Due credit also goes to other facilitators from Pravah who did a great job of holding her through this period. Zenith and I have stayed in touch even after the formal conclusion of this program. As far as commitment towards sustaining this relationship is concerned, I would say more credit goes to her. She is never hesitant to call or text. From the point of view of the mentees, they have to feel they are gaining something.
Looking back, it feels good to know I can make a difference and help someone. It is about watching them grow, knowing how their journey has been, and in turn getting inspired by how they faced and overcame challenges. It inspires me as a mentor and one learns as an individual. I continue to apply what I learned from the program in my personal as well as professional life. I listen to whatever my children have to say. With my juniors and staff, I seek to learn and understand more about them. In case someone is an introvert and keeps quiet, I now try to create space for them to speak and express themselves, which was not the case earlier.
Amit Patro is currently working as the Editor for Sikkim Express. He participated in the USG-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program, Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, in 2010. He mentored Zenith Lairikyengbam, Sagar Thapa and Sudipto Paul through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.