Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Importance of a Professional Mentor

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Importance of a Professional Mentor

Article excerpt

As a young professional early in my parks and recreation career, I have been extremely lucky to have several great mentors. These fantastic individuals instilled in me the tenet of professional service, encouraged constant professional development, assisted me in the evolution of my personal leadership style, helped me understand the importance of inspiring and helping children, and fortified my personal and professional ethics.

As a recreation professional, you can probably recall a specific professional (or more than one) who had a profound impact on your life course in the field. Perhaps your mentor was someone who gave you inspiration to continue working hard and moving forward through words of encouragement, or maybe someone who opened doors for you through knowledge or networking. In any case, a mentor is a special person who moves you and pushes you forward professionally and personally. Through their sharing of industry knowledge, mentors pass along information that helps new professionals. Often, they serve as great door-openers, connecting you with the right individuals in your field and appropriate persons in related fields as well. A good mentor is, simply, invaluable.

One of the first attributes all good mentors have in common is the ability to reassure you when you need it most. While everyone might need a few words of encouragement from time to time, those that come from someone with years of experience in your field mean so much more. They may offer perspective and directed counsel, highlighting exactly why you should hold your chin up and keep moving forward. Simple and directed reassurance can be quite the motivator and often a good way to immediately get you back on the right track.

The truth is, if you want to propel yourself further and maximize investment in your professional career, you simply do not have the time to make every mistake. While mistakes allow immense levels of learning, avoiding costly mistakes and side-stepping minor inconveniences will aid you in making the best mistakes. Good mentors share their mistakes. There are two benefits to this--the first is to connect to your situation and perhaps help you realize that even experts and leaders in your field are not mistake-free. The second benefit, and perhaps the more important of the two, is that you are able to learn from your mentor's mistakes. Individual experience is a great teacher, but so is someone else's experience!

The perspective gained from a solid reality check is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of working with a trusted mentor. Whether it is identifying a not-so-glaring weakness or simply telling you to let bygones be bygones, the best mentor will tell you what you need to hear to be a better person. While friends or business associates may stroke your ego or offer words to soothe your hurt feelings, the words you want to hear and need to hear may be quite different. The mentor-mentee relationship should be one based on honesty and the willingness to engage in open communication. Such candid discussion can help eliminate or solidify your weaknesses--your mentor does not look at you and see your current situation. Instead, he or she sees you as a work in progress. Mentors see what you may become and hope to help you reach your potential. …

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