It is essential to understand one’s past patterns before mentoring others. Here, the workshop by Pravah was quite helpful for a first-time mentor like me. Those sessions helped me look back and within, while generating awareness of my emotional processes and biases, and assisting me to identify how these personal judgments could come in the way of mentoring. My role was not about furnishing my mentees with readymade solutions, but providing guidance on various existing possibilities and motivating and supporting them in ways unique to their needs. I encouraged all three of them to take decisions by ushering them through the process and helping them see things with clarity. It was vital to continue to encourage them to step out of their comfort zones without pushing them.
One challenge they all faced was overcoming personal inhibitions. “We are shy and don’t like to speak up in front of guys,” was a recurring admission made during our interactions. They felt they will be mocked by boys if they spoke in class. I tried to plug into their emotions through my similar past experiences. The realization of having been through similar challenges in different contexts at some point in my life helped me empathize. I felt it was all about not taking them away from who they are. If you are shy, that is who you are. If you don’t feel like raising your hand in the classroom, that is alright as well. Accept it as something about you and work around it. Go ask your teacher after class. What is important is you get the information you need. It is important to know and accept oneself and work with this knowledge of one’s unique strengths and limitations.
My mentorship style varied with each mentee, with one it meant late night phone calls, with the others, helping create a questionnaire during their research-phase, or identifying resources within my personal networks during implementation. It is about being there for them in the ways they need. Project planning was something that had captured my attention during my exchange visit as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program in 2015. I included this understanding in my role as a mentor as well. Further, I also nudged my mentees to expand networks, to reach out and talk to more people, to not do things alone, and to not get confined to their schools and colleges. The challenge across mentees was to get started; however, very soon they overcame the early inertia and stepped out and met people working in the sector of their interest. We are not in as frequent touch as we used to be, it has receded. Even during the program, we could not meet once a month, as was suggested, because some of us live quite far from each other.
As a mentor I sometimes wonder, do I keep checking, or should they be reaching out. Sometimes I may have not been able to due to my busy schedule and then, there were times when the mentees did not get back to me. Perhaps, a schedule for follow–ups would have been helpful. Looking back, this process has not only helped me as a mentor but also as an individual. I wish I too had a mentor, someone who could listen in a non-judgmental manner. As a young parent, this is how I feel the need to be with my daughter — realizing each individual is of a different make, it is not about pushing, just leading them towards answers.
Chirantana Kar is an environmental engineer by qualification and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the Center for Economics and Social Studies, Hyderabad (CESS). She participated in the USG-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program on Sustainable Cities in 2015. She mentored Aniruthiya, Ashley and Smriti through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.