I was a bookish kid. I lived inside of my mind, which was fueled by the imagination brought to me courtesy of Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club and Anne of Green Gables.
I read Little Women for the first time when I was in fourth grade. I couldn’t get enough of it. I needed to share my excitement and thoughts with someone. Anyone.
One day, I was haphazardly telling everyone about this book while lining up for P.E. class. I mentioned it to my teacher, who did something that many adults do. She asked me a question that I thought was meant to placate me: “Who was your favorite character?” I said Jo, of course. And then she did something that I never knew adults to do.
She said, “Me too!”
And then she proceeded to tell me why.
To my surprise, she kept up this conversation about this book I loved! I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I expected her to shush me. But to actually take an active interest in what I was saying and discuss it with me? I didn’t realize adults took the time to do that.
Our line was formed and we were walking out of the classroom, so I had to stop talking before we went into the hallway. I was disappointed that our conversation had to end so soon.
Later that day, as I was finishing up lunch, she happened to walk through the gym and picked up our conversation where we’d left off.
Now as an adult, I imagine she probably would’ve rather spent her lunch break in peace, not talking to her annoyingly eager student. But if that’s how she felt, she never showed it. She seemed genuinely interested in my thoughts on the March sisters and Louisa May Alcott. Her simple act of going out of her way to continue the conversation made a huge difference to me.
The famous Maya Angelou quote goes, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s true.
Her taking an interest in me and my interests and taking the time to foster my love of reading left an indelible mark. Here I am nearly 20 years later and I can still remember that feeling of being valued.
Since then, I’ve had many other mentors: my junior high teachers who taught me to never grow out of my wild imagination, my high school English teacher — Mr. Laird — who taught me how to be a writer, the mom of the family I babysat for who taught me how to adult, and my current manager who challenges me to be more constructive and intentional with my writing and speaking.
Sometimes I forget that I’m now the same age that my fourth-grade teacher was when I was 10. At the time, I thought she was so old. That’s me now. And I’m part of the new generation of mentors. I often feel like an average Joe. I don’t have extensive knowledge or skills to pass on. But I do have something to offer, and that’s mentorship. Mentorship is guiding and sharing wisdom, yes, but it’s also just taking an active interest.
I’m certain I’m not alone among the 20-somethings of central Illinois in having had good mentors who helped shape me.
Here in Peoria, there’s a great need for good, young adult mentors and a lot of ways to get involved. There’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, Neighborhood House, Boys and Girls Clubs, Friendship House, Dream Center and other organizations like the kind you can find through individual churches.
Looking back, it has been the people around me who’ve helped me the most. Those mentors inevitably helped me through my young adulthood, even if they were no longer in my life by that time. I know that the impression they left and the knowledge they shared formed me into the person I am today. Because of their impact, I can see shades of my mentors’ advice sprinkled throughout my life path thus far. Any success I’ve achieved is because of the people who’ve guided me.
There’s a lot of life that happens in young adulthood. Sharing some of that life with the next generation ensures that they have somebody who they can say — even years down the road — took an interest in their success.