The Power of a Mentor
I am honoured to have been recently asked to write a guest blog for my athletic sponsor, SoLo Energy Bar. This is my first attempt at a blog, so please bear with me! And full disclosure – I was initially quite hesitant about writing a blog because there are so many blogs out there, and I wanted to ensure mine came from a place of sincerity, while also offering something ‘different’. I was given a few suggested topics, but one that stood out for me the most was the subject of mentoring. Specifically, that of “the power of a mentor”. I’m so fortunate to have become a part of the SoLo Energy Bar team, as it has led me to mentorship opportunities with other athletes, students, and youth living with type 1 diabetes. I am very passionate about the importance that mentorship plays in youth development, and have myself been very fortunate to have had fantastic mentors in both my athletic and academic life. These mentors have provided priceless guidance during challenging times, and unconditional support when I needed it the most. Above all, they have believed in me, in my ability, and in my potential, even when I doubted these things myself. They have been instrumental in shaping the physician and athlete that I have become, and that I continue to evolve into.
More than just a science teacher – Peter Krayacich
My biology teacher during my senior year in high school was, without question, the most effective teacher that I have ever had. And I am not the only person to hold this opinion. If you read any of Mr. Krayacich’s reviews, all of his students have found him an inspirational figure in their lives. His reputation is remarkable. For me, in particular, he kept me interested and excited about science at a point in my education where I was finding classes boring and unchallenging. He pushed me to think in different ways, nurtured my love for science, and made classes and labs fun. Above all, he always challenged me and didn’t let me be satisfied with just doing “well”. He saw my potential and expected nothing less than what he knew I was capable of. As a result of his belief in me, I always strived to do my best, and attain the highest grades possible. He definitely played a large part in nurturing my personal belief that I could be successful in pursuing my dream of becoming a physician. Furthermore, his belief in me was something that I held close to my heart during times in university when I doubted myself. Mr. Krayacich is a true mentor in every sense of the word, and was born to be a teacher.
Knowing your athlete – Douglas Consiglio
My track and field coach Doug Consiglio has been an instrumental mentor for me in the short time that we have worked together in my running career. He has believed in my ability from the beginning, and more importantly, individualized my training plan to my specific needs. He recognized the limitations in my training due to my medical conditions (rheumatological joint and bone conditions), customized a plan accordingly, and was flexible in changing that plan when we needed to. He gave me space when I needed it, and gave me a nudge when necessary. He always maintained a positive attitude, and encouraged me to believe that I was good enough to compete in international competitions. He was consistently available for advice and support, and as a result, I never felt alone in the pursuance of my running goals. He led me to my most successful year thus far, with three top eight finishes at the 2016 World Masters Track and Field Championships in Australia, and two medals at the 2017 World Masters Game in New Zealand. Furthermore, he is continuing to guide and support me during a most difficult transition away from competitive running, into other avenues in the sport. He exemplifies the important notion that to be a great mentor, you have to recognize the individual and specific needs of your mentee, rather than adopting a “cookie cutter” approach.
Qualities of a good mentor
Why is a mentor important? Because we can all use a little help and guidance every now and then. And there is likely someone out there that has been through a similar path that can be a role model for which we can follow in pursuit of our own goals. One is never too old or too young to have a mentor, or to be a mentor, for that matter. A good mentor believes in their mentee even when they, themselves, do not. They use their experiential wisdom to guide their mentees decisions. They recognize when the mentee may be veering off of their path, and gently help them get back on track, while also staying far enough removed to let them find their own way. A leader, but also a guide. A good mentor provides consistent support and is there unconditionally, without pretense, qualifications, or conditions. They are approachable and non-intimidating. They individualize their approach according to their mentees unique needs. They recognize the importance of the role, respect it, and take it very seriously. This is especially important when dealing with youth and young adults, who are under so much pressure at such a young and impressionable age. It is a privilege to be a mentor, and it comes with immense responsibility. A good mentor will realize this.
What a mentor is NOT
What a mentor is not is just as important as what a mentor should be. Certain toxic qualities can make a mentor-mentee relationship very damaging and hurtful for the latter, particularly in athletics. A mentor does not live vicariously through their mentee, and does not impose their own values and goals on them if these values and goals do not align with that of the athlete. A mentor is not inconsistent in their support, and does not make their support contingent on performance. A mentor does not have their athlete affected by their own personal life’s tribulations. A mentor does not act in a manner that brings down their mentee, by belittling them or comparing them to others. A mentor does not promote an unhealthy training environment where athletes are pitted against each other, or abandoned during injury. A mentor does not put performance before health and well-being, and does not use their position of power to take advantage of their mentees talents for their personal gain.
Be the Mentor you wish you had
My own positive experiences in being mentored have led me to pursue mentoring roles in both my professional and athletic life. These mentoring relationships provide so much enrichment, fulfilment, and joy to my life. It is important to stress that being a mentor does not mean that you haven’t made mistakes or wrong decisions in your own journey; rather, it is using what you have learned from these experiences and applying them to your mentoring of others that is key. Although some people are more natural at mentoring, I do feel that it is a skill that can be learned and nurtured. If you feel that you have something to share that may be beneficial to the younger generation, I encourage you to think about pursuing a mentor-mentee relationship. It may just be the most rewarding thing that you do. In the words of Martin Luther King Junior, “life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” We all have the capacity to be a role model. I encourage you to be one. Be the mentor you wish you had.
Dr. Delilah Topic MD, FRCPC
Medical Oncologist, BC Cancer Agency (Kelowna, BC)
Clinical assistant professor, UBC
Competitive middle and long distance runner sponsored by Solo Energy Bar
2017 World Masters Games Silver and Bronze Medalist