Who do you tend to go to first when you need advice on something? A spouse, a parent, a sibling? Maybe a co-worker or close friend? While these people fall into the category of confidante, would you believe that they could also be categorized as mentors? Elizabeth Knox, author of Faith Powered Profession and active 4word woman and leader, believes that these relationships, when partnered with a formal mentor/mentee relationship, can give you a more well-rounded mentorship experience.
4word: You are heavily connected with 4word, from Diane’s support of your book Faith Powered Profession to your role as a leader of the 4word: Washington, D.C. Local Group. What has 4word meant to you over the years, and why do you continue to invest in this organization?
Elizabeth: I first met Diane about 4 years ago when I was in the middle of writing Faith Powered Profession. I told her about the book, and she encouraged me to keep in touch. When I was getting closer to publication, I asked her to endorse it, and after reading it, she offered for it to be one of 4word’s resources.
4word provides a platform for Faith Powered Profession and that has been helpful for me as a writer.
But beyond my writing, I’m grateful to have 4word as a professional and personal network. The women I’ve met have been interesting, accomplished, Godly, and fun!
I continue to be involved because I want that type of network to grow here in D.C.. I want professional Christian women to have a place to grow, be encouraged and empowered to make a difference in their workplaces, and to meet many of the other fun professional Christian women who are out there!
4word: You were recently a guest on 4word’s Mentoring Monday radio show. On the show, you discussed mentorship and brought up the idea that having one mentor is NOT the best way to seek advice. What were your thoughts behind that statement?
Elizabeth: I think that the term “mentor” can come with a lot of weight. As though there was one person who could help you figure out whichever question you have at any given time – whether your issue was professional, personal, romantic, or ministry related. And that person would be static regardless of your season of life – whether you were a college freshman or a seasoned professional looking at retirement.
That’s your “mentor.”
I think a lot of women (myself included, if I’m honest) want that. It’s a combination of a parent, a coach, a boss, a therapist, and a best friend (and someone who can just hand you a new job). All rolled into one.
Except you won’t find that all in one person. (I think the list makes that point!)
No single person is going to be able to fill all those roles, and no single mentor is going to be able to help you with the countless situations you’re going to encounter as you move through life.
So I think that having several people you can go to for advice is actually more beneficial, and more effective, than a single mentor.
4word: How can a mentor and mentee keep their mentor relationship stress-free and mutually beneficial?
Elizabeth: I think the key is clear expectations:
- What do you hope to accomplish? Both parties should know what the goal is (attacking a particular challenge, learning a new skill, dealing with a current problem).
- Who is responsible for doing what? In addition to both parties knowing what the mentee wants to accomplish, who will schedule the meetings? Will the mentee or mentor set the ‘agenda?’ Will the mentor be responsible for sending ‘assignments’ either before or after the meeting?
- Keep things time limited. Define the amount of time you expect it to take. Coffee to discuss a challenge you are facing at work; meeting once a month for 6 months while you transition into a new job; 10 weeks like the 4word: Mentor Program.
I recognize being so clear might seem like it would take the fun and bonding out of a mentoring relationship, but I actually think it can help. Both people know what they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to get out of meetings. There’s a higher likelihood of both people meeting their objectives than a loosey-goosey “will you mentor me?” kind of question.
4word: You are also a mother to two young boys and personally deal with juggling work and life. What are some tactics you have learned along the way?
Elizabeth: I’m pretty new at this mothering gig. My husband and I have a 2 year old and an 8 month old. They are delightful! And time consuming!
Everyone has 168 hours in a week, so I don’t have any less time than anyone else. But I now have more fixed demands on my time: small people who need love, story time, snuggles, food, and diaper changes.
The approach we’re taking is 3-pronged:
Prioritize: What things are most important to us? There are a lot of really good things out there that need help and attention. Family, work, church, your community, the country, the world – there are countless needs. But we can’t meet them all. So we have to look at which needs are most important to us, and which are the needs that only we can fill.
In this season of small children, and 1.6 relatively demanding jobs (I work 3 days/week), well – that’s really what we focus on.
After that – we focus on eating well and getting enough sleep, then we each have our “passions” (for me, it’s writing for professional Christian women). Our extended families are up there, as well as close friends.
Minimize: Our priority list contains a lot less than it used to (primarily because of the fixed demands of raising children). What’s not on that list above that used to be? Volunteering, lots of socialization with friends, leading a small group, playing an organized sport, reading long books.
Those are things I want to be a part of my life overall, but they aren’t a part of my life in this season. I trust that I will go back to them, but right now we are intentionally cutting them out so that we have space to focus on the important things.
Once you know what is important to you, get rid of the things that aren’t important to you. This goes for physical space – de-cluttering your house – but also for your time and mental space. Intentionally say no to things – make the hard choices. Say no quickly to things that aren’t on your priority list. It’s way too easy to let things get overwhelming. But it’s only by saying ‘no’ to the less-important things, that you can say ‘yes’ to the more important things and really give them the time they require.
Outsource: As I mentioned in “prioritize,” there are some needs that only I can fill. Generally, with our children this small, we want to eat dinner with them and be the people putting them to bed 25 or 26 nights out of the 30 nights each month. We save those absences for work requirements or date nights. That means I don’t really go out to dinner with friends in this season of life. That influences my decision on attending a small group right now.
But there are things that other people can do just as well, or better, than me. My husband and I are both really good at cleaning, but so are people who do it professionally, and we outsource house cleaning. We prioritized it in our budget, cut out other things to make space for it, and I am really grateful for the time it opens up in our life. (You may ask: what about the value of teaching children to clean up after themselves? Trust me – with small children, there is always plenty of cleaning up to be done, even if we have someone come do the deep cleaning every few weeks).
Find things that are lower on your priority list that other people can do as well. Weigh the time vs. money debate and see what you can get off your plate.
4word: Do you have any “mommy mentors” that have helped you?
Elizabeth: This is a perfect example of where there are several people who have influenced my mothering approach. Most importantly are my own mother and my mother-in-law – both fabulous moms! They have offered guidance (usually just the right amount, at just the right time) and have asked me valuable questions to help me figure out my own style.
Friends have also served as a source of inspiration and encouragement. My next-door neighbor also two small children, so it’s fun to see “how they do it.” I have dear friends who live in other parts of the country or world. From one I am learning how to introduce faith to your children. From another I am learning about how to give them a simple childhood, free from too many toys or activities.
I’m learning about parenting from several people who have gone before or are in the middle of it themselves!
4word: What would you say to someone who’s trying to decide whether or not they should join the 4word: Mentor Program?
Elizabeth: I would encourage you to look at your own priority list. If you are considering joining as a mentee: is now a time when you are ready to put focus on growing your career or work through a particular relationship problem? Are there issues you are trying to sort out that could benefit from the insight of someone more seasoned?
It’s an excellent opportunity to learn from another woman who has insight into work, relationships, and faith, but you need to be prepared to “do the work” to get the most out of the program.
If you are considering joining as a mentor, are you interested in focusing your time on growing someone else? (likely experiencing growth yourself as a side benefit!) The mentee deserves your focus and attention, so make sure you can invest the time it requires to work with them, talk with them, and pray for them.
It’s a fabulous opportunity!
Whether you’re starting a new job, transitioning careers, a first-time mom, or just in need of some peer guidance, take Elizabeth’s advice and seek out multiple sources of wisdom and mentorship.
Do you feel called to be a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? The 4word Mentor Program is currently accepting applications for the upcoming fall session. Visit the Mentor Program website today and submit your online application by September 2, 2016!
Elizabeth works in the Defense Field in Washington, DC where she lives with her husband and two sons. You can read more by Elizabeth at her blog: Elizabeth Knox Online or follow her on twitter. Her first book is Faith Powered Profession.
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