There is a little known secret about mentoring. When I discuss our mentoring program with colleagues, it’s easy for them to understand the impact they can have on children in our communities. Yet, they stop nodding along when I tell them what every long-term mentor knows…the real benefactor is the adult.
A Google search will turn up statistics on the increased productivity a mentor demonstrates when he or she returns to the office and we all know it feels good to do good. All true, but the magic of mentoring is that it’s personal. The data just doesn’t tell the whole story. When I met Payton four years ago, I wasn’t sure if we were the right fit for each other. He had much different interests than I did when I was his age. However, it didn’t take long to realize that it didn’t matter. He just wanted someone to depend on that would listen to him.
He told me stories about gaming and competitive yo-yoing while he learned to shoot a jump shot. Still, I wasn’t sure I was accomplishing much more than helping him kill a study hall period. And we both knew he wasn’t going to be Lebron James and I’d never learn to “walk the dog.” One day we went down to the gym and the PE teacher stopped me. She told me that Payton had started dressing for gym. It seemed to her that he was more comfortable participating in sports since we began hanging out.
It didn’t even dawn on me that it had been such a dilemma for him previously. The more Payton opened up over the weeks to come, the more it made me sensitive to the potential struggles other people around me were having. His openness even pushed me to be more vulnerable to him and others. In an honest moment a few months after we met, Payton confided in me about some heavy anger he was feeling. He wasn’t sure what to do with all the negative energy that had built up inside him. After listening for a while, I asked him if he had considered going for a run after school. Whenever I jogged it helped clear my mind and would certainly help him burn off the fuel. Payton took my advice and I began challenging him to run farther and farther each week. It didn’t take long for my little buddy to turn the table on me. Payton said that he would train to run a 5k over the summer if I would be his sponsor and run with him. How could I say “no?” I checked with his Mom and we made a plan. It forced me to make time to get out and hit the pavement! It wasn’t pretty at first, but by the time the GE 5k rolled around, we were both in pretty good shape.
As we high-fived after the race, I realized it was one of the prouder days I’d had in quite some time and it was all because of Payton. I felt proud to have made an investment of time for my own health and proud to be his mentor. His mom said the race was the first major commitment that he had stuck with, but I quickly found out it wouldn’t be his last. He is now staring his sophomore year, his second on the track and cross-country team. Every year he grows more confident and every summer he challenges me to run further. It’s a great metaphor for the mentoring experience shared by so many. I slowed down and pulled Payton along in our first race. I was there purely for him. As the summers pass I begin to realize that he’s the one pushing me and it’s a great feeling to watch him fly by! -Ryan McEleney Webster Mentor