What if the mistakes you made yesterday are the inspiration for someone today?
We have a tendency to minimize our ability to influence people if we haven’t achieved something gloriously huge. But if you’re honest, it’s the folks plodding along right next to you who inspire you the most. Because you know their struggle and their story, it’s easy to see yourself in their shoes.
When it comes to being a mentor, the same principle applies. Young people are most influenced by people who seem just like them. If you wonder why musicians have as much influence as they do, it’s because a) many of them dress and act like teenagers, and b) they seem open and honest about their lives (even if it’s a front).
That’s really all people need. Be honest about what’s going on for you. You lead simply because you boldly speak your truth; everyone else still puts up the facade.
I work with youth on a constant basis, and striving to make a difference, I take on projects that are sometimes too big for what I can handle.
When I drop the ball for them, I feel like I suck. But I fess up quickly.
“You’re so real!” one of them tells me.
“Real” in kidspeak is a powerful thing. It’s that Velveteen moment where you stop being a caricature and become something that matters to them.
The worst part of celebrity is how it makes ordinary people with some talent into overblown figures. Even kids know in their hearts it’s fake but when you’re starving to see someone who looks like you do something of value, you’ll settle for anything.
That’s why real mentors, people just like you, are important.
Because today, they asked me what to do if someone tries to rob them. The caricatures say to fight violence with violence. I said, “Be gentle to yourself and others.”
“But what if my stuff costs a lot of money?”
“If someone will rob you, they will do worse. Give them the stuff and get away. Stuff can be replaced; there is only one You.”
There was silence.
In that silence, young people realized they were more valuable than stuff. That is the beginning of possibility for them.
As a board member for the Urban League Young Professionals Network, I put on a seminar called Mentorship 101. Our goal was simple: to remind you that you can be the difference. Take a look.
The next generation needs to hear from real people like you. (Heck, OUR generation needs to hear more real people.)
Are you out there? Let me know and I’ll connect you with an organization in your town.