Ask any woman who has traversed the winding path of career, family, and faith, and they are sure to tell you one thing: they wouldn’t be where they are today without the help of women who walked ahead of them. These women come in all shapes and sizes: formal mentors, supervisors or coworkers, or the kind lady at church who reads the stress on your face like a book and offers to pray for you on the spot.
After my divorce, I knew I needed women around me who encouraged me and lifted me up during a very difficult season in my life. I was a suddenly single mom with two young kids and a newly ex-husband who had emotionally abused me and was trying to turn my kids against me. How was I supposed to handle all of that while still focusing on my career and providing for my family?
God blessed me with a dear friend who gave me confidence to take the next step forward each day, encouraging me to continue to “be like Christ” and set an example for my kids who would one day be old enough to understand the truth. She showed me how to lean on Christ for wisdom with my kids, who are old enough now to understand how I was the stable source of support in their lives through that difficult time.
I cannot stress enough the importance of having older women in our lives to “reach up” to, who walk with us on a regular basis so that when trials do come – and they will – your relationship is deep enough that you can lean on them for the Christ-like love and support that will carry you through the trial. As Hebrews 13:7 encourages us, we should “remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.”
Those of us who have experienced the richness of these relationships know that it is just as important to “reach down” to younger women a few steps behind us on the journey of work, relationships and faith. “Paying it forward” is my passion, and I am blessed to have had many opportunities to sponsor women in the workplace, helping them win a promotion, get their foot in the door for a job, or offer wisdom when they wonder if putting a relationship first is the “right choice.”
When I think of these women, I think of Shelly, who had everything it took to be the COO of a large company but lacked the confidence to ask for it. I had the opportunity to not only sponsor her for the position, but encourage her to bravely ask for the role. I think of Lisa, who worked on the team of a large account I oversaw as the COO of a Fortune 1000 company. We were looking for someone to fill the #2 position on the account, and Lisa was my pick. I advocated for her with the Executive Team, and Lisa lived up to her potential in her new role.
I think of Megan, the daughter of a friend who was having a tough time getting her first job out of college. While Megan wasn’t a “formal” mentee, I watched her build a successful swimming lesson business and knew she had what it took to be a successful project manager. I was able to open the door for her, and she walked through it with confidence and grew to be a very successful employee. Another daughter of a friend also struggled to find her first job, and I pitched her to a fellow executive who had an open position. I knew Emily could be successful in the role – she just needed that first foot in the door. She did the rest, getting the job and thriving in her new role.
It’s just as important to “reach down” to women navigating the terrain of balancing work and relationships as “reaching up” to those who have walked ahead of us. I often think of Kellie, who couldn’t figure out why she was resistant to moving into a larger role at work. I was able to ask her questions that revealed she placed more value on an important relationship than a big promotion. Within a year, Kellie married her husband Brian and later moved into a bigger, better role with another company.
At our recent inaugural Leap 4word Gala, Sarah-Jane Murray, Charity Wallace, and Brandi McDonald Sikes all spoke from the podium about how I impacted them as a mentor. I had no idea I had filled the role of mentor in their eyes, and was so blessed to learn how my life had impacted each of these very successful women along their unique paths.
Maybe you have been in my shoes, eternally grateful for an more seasoned woman willing to take the time to listen, offer wisdom, pray and walk daily with you through an intense trial or life-altering decision. Maybe you have also experienced the great blessing of reaching down to a younger woman and offering your own experience and advice. I’ve learned from both “reaching up” and “reaching down” that these relationships – whether long-term mentors or relationships we’ve been given for a season of need – all share the same important characteristics: trust, openness to objective feedback and new ideas, and enjoying each other’s stories and company. These friendships can be some of the richest in our lives and bring us joy long after the season of trial has passed.
How can we have “eyes to see” the women in our lives, older or younger, who need us to reach out to them and offer wisdom, encouragement or acceptance?
First, it is so important to pray, just as Paul did:
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:3-6
Thank God for the women who have walked with you in both the trials and blessings of life. Lift them up in prayer as you know they have lifted you up time and again. And ask the Lord to bring women across your path who need your exact wisdom and experience to help them traverse a difficult or confusing season in their life.
When you meet a younger woman, always think, “Can I help in any way?” Then ask yourself how you can best help them, whether they are looking for a new opportunity, struggling to find meaning or purpose in their job, or weighing a difficult decision. Sharing our stories and offering encouragement is never a burden, and will help other women in ways you can’t imagine.
Build space into your life so you have the time and energy to be there for your mentees or coworkers who need you. An open door policy for other women in your workplace and a schedule that allows you to take a call when a mentee is looking for wisdom will keep you from having “blinders” that prevent you from seeing and meeting the needs of others. God will always provide you with the wisdom to lift others up as long as you are not overcrowding your schedule and only looking at your own needs.
Finally, be prepared to drop everything when a friend, coworker or mentee needs and emergency conversation. If my dear friend hadn’t been willing to answer my call or meet me for coffee at a moment’s notice, I know I would not have survived the season following my divorce and led my kids with the grace they needed. I must be willing to pass on the gift I was given and put others first in their time of need.
Do you have eyes to see the women ahead of and behind you who can walk with you through trials or need your love and encouragement during a difficult time? Are you praying for opportunities to mentor younger women navigating work, relationships and faith? Have you taken the time to thank those who “reached down” when you needed them? I pray that we all have eyes to see the women in our lives who need to hear our stories of grace and redemption in our homes and workplaces.
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!