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Mentoring is an act of giving by which you also receive

JoAnne Ryan

“It is better to give than receive.” 

When I was asked to contribute an article on the benefits of mentoring this was one of my immediate thoughts. In both my experience and opinion, mentoring is probably one of the few times when you can have both. The origin of this phrase, perhaps unknown to some, is the Bible, Acts 20:35 (King Janes). The phrase has a straightforward literal meaning which needs no further explanation, and we utilize it to reinforce that the unselfish act of giving is a virtue. While this is true in almost every circumstance, there is an especially unique opportunity when the act of giving exponentially yields a greater gift — receiving. This simultaneous phenomenon occurs when mentoring another. I know this to be true because I have witnessed this countless times and personally experienced this gift as well.  

Upon reflecting on the value of mentoring, for me it began informally long before formal and professional mentoring began. It was by the members of my family, and especially the women in my family who taught me by their examples the importance of sharing what you have through selfless acts of service. They demonstrated that gifts and talents are meant to be shared with those around you and especially those in need. They reinforced that even as a young girl, I could make a difference. I was fortunate to have such strong role models in my life who helped me to understand that whatever I chose to do in life or whichever path I took, service to others was a responsibility.  

As a young nurse, I was surrounded by wisdom and experience from colleagues who were in various levels of leadership. Their investment in me shaped me and advanced my skill set in foundational ways that opened future doors and opportunities that I could not have possibly imagined in those early years.   

Additionally, my professional path has been impacted and enhanced by the assistance of colleagues and friends, who acted as professional guides and mentors and demonstrated for me different styles of leadership and professionalism that impacted and influenced my leadership style in immeasurable ways. In turn, motivated by a significant level of gratitude and the desire to pay it forward, I acquired a deep respect and passion for mentoring others and seeking opportunities to work with emerging leaders, especially women. I have found great joy through the empowerment and encouragement of emerging leaders and when possible, helping to clear the path or open a door through a formal or informal introduction.  

I have had the privilege of sharing in their joy and pride as they have stepped forward into their true light or helping them to recognize the power of their unique contributions and value, sometimes before they were even able to see them in themselves. I quickly found that during each of these mentoring experiences, I received so much more than I could possibly have ever given — a profound awareness that it was in this act of giving that I also received. I find tremendous satisfaction in watching someone move forward in their career or be brave enough to take an entirely different path. It is a true privilege and honor to help someone work through professional disappointments and setbacks and help them use a different lens from which to view the situations as perfectly timed opportunities to embrace a new direction and celebrate their strength and resilience by overcoming adversity. I have often shared this quote by Maya Angelou: 

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

Contributing by way of this article has reaffirmed my tremendous gratitude to both give and receive. I realize I have been blessed by many who have touched my life as role models and mentors, both formally and informally — family, friends and colleagues that have been examples of courage, strength, spirituality, and determination complemented by a commitment to serve others, share gifts and talents freely without expectation of return. During their mentoring, they demonstrated the importance of looking outside of one’s own ambitions and goals and the importance of the selfless act of giving back, paying it forward, and truly celebrating together each other’s successes.  

It was their gift to me, sharing their time, their wisdom, their successes and equally as important, sharing how they navigated through their professional disappointments and sometimes failures. It has been a circle of trust and lifting each other with the realization that we can make a profound impact by simply paying it forward. The beauty is that these life and professional lessons came from individuals of all ranks, colors, ages, beliefs, orientation, and professions each willing to share.  

I am currently the president and CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities Rochester. We have an amazing team with many emerging leaders. It is a gift to watch their passion be evidenced everyday as they support the families of critically ill or injured children. Our hallmark of excellence is keeping families close and together during profound times of crisis. It is both humbling and remarkable to watch them celebrate the tiniest of miracles with one family while supporting another through a devastating loss, sometimes in the same day. I continue to seek opportunities to be a mentor and pay it forward.  

Mentoring can be both formal and informal; if you have not had a chance to experience this kind of professional giving, I strongly encourage that you do so. It takes less time than you think, and what you receive will far surpass what you give. Opportunities present themselves every day. A few years back I was asked to participate as a panelist of community leaders as a graduating alum from RIT. In attendance were the students completing their final semester of graduate work in Health Systems Administration. One of the topics I was asked to address was how to successfully network once one has graduated. My favorite piece of advice to new graduates and emerging leaders is to first research who you would like to meet, then reach out and simply offer to meet them for a 30-minute coffee meeting. Value their time, have your key questions ready and if there is an ask, be sure your ask is clear and reasonable. I have found this to be a very effective way to build a relationship that can grow into either a formal or informal mentoring opportunity. 

At the end of the RIT panel, a graduate student approached me and asked me for a 30-minute coffee meeting, and I have had the privilege of mentoring her ever since. Prior to COVID, we would meet once a month but since then we chat by phone every two weeks for about 30 minutes. It has been my gift to watch her grow in confidence and have a front-row seat for her recent promotion. She is one of many who has blessed my life. I am told I am on “speed dial” and often receive calls just to bounce off ideas, weigh new opportunities, help think critically about challenges or connect them with a better suited resource … and I am both flattered and truly blessed by each call.  

It is definitely better to give than to receive, but sometimes it is pretty amazing to have both!  

JoAnne Ryan is CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester and has held leadership positions in health care, nonprofit and as a corporate executive with a proven track record of impacting multi-metric performance in both corporate and nonprofit sector across multiple and diverse service venues. She has effectively initiated and managed collaborative community partnerships across educational, governmental, judicial and community sectors as well. 

If you are interested in telling your story in a future Mentoring Matters column, please email Dorothy Kelley at [email protected] 

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