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Women Helping Women: Mentoring is Better Than The Yellow Pages

Aug 17, 2007
If you want to find something, a place, a service or some good advice, whom will you ask? A woman, of course! Women are the greatest Yellow Pages resource ever. If you like what she is wearing, or reading, or the cut and color of her hair, a woman is happy to tell you all about it. Is this a maternal, hormonal trait, or just social training? Whatever the cause, women will open up to the universe and help just about anyone.

I have been a therapist for over half of my life and have shared many women's journeys. I have found women will love and care freely for others, but they are not so caring of themselves. Many women feel they have no one to talk to, no one with whom they can share their issues. Many say they do not want to burden others with their problems because they do not want to let someone else down! Women come into this world with a basket brimming with personal, emotional and psychological resources, which they freely give away. Then, when it is time to pull some out for themselves---oops---the resources are gone.

Fortunately, women today are becoming aware of the importance of being helped as well as helping others. Toda's popular terms mentor and coach are just business models that dress up the age-old practice of women helping women. By watching good role models, women have learned how to be good mothers, good wives and good friends. But, what about the myriad other areas that have only recently become part of a woman's world? What about jobs, or career moves, or investing, or health care or issues surrounding growing older? Where can the average woman honestly share her feelings? Who will answer her hard questions? She has to find a mentor, a role model to offer advice on career, education, parenting or any other life skill.

Typically the relationship with a coach, often called a life coach, involves a financial exchange. It is not therapy, however. Instead, it is a partnership with a trained professional who is on your side and wants you to win in life, work, love or whatever endeavor you choose. You can hire a coach to help you with business, executive challenges, sales, transitions, academics, management and any aspect of your personal life. If we stop and think, women did some of the earliest coaching in their historic roles as midwives. Then, as now, a coach could help you attain your goal and deliver your maximum performance!

Unlike coaching, having or being a mentor does not involve an exchange of money. A mentoring relationship is more subtle, often endures for many years, and requires the recipient to be sensitive to the ways in which she can provide value back to her mentor.

A mentor provides advice, shows you the ropes and helps you to avoid mistakes if you will listen. A woman mentor can save you a world of headaches and sorrow, and it is worth searching for someone with the experience you need. However, searching for a female role model in the worlds of business, medicine, religion, or sports often raises the question: Have we women gotten as far down the fast track of life as we anticipated?

Admittedly, volunteer mentors can be in short supply in some areas, so you may need to launch a determined search. Look around in your community. Is there someone you admire for her skills or success? Invite her to coffee, or on a walk, or just telephone and ask her advice. Everyone is pleased to feel admired, and remember, women are happy to help. Open up to the relationship, and you will identify ways you can help her in return, or at least pass it on to others.

Don't take it personally if she is just too busy to take on another thing. Most women juggle multiple responsibilities and many are maxxed out. Hang in there and keep looking.

There's no shame in this: we all need someone to help us now and then with life's issues, concerns and today's astounding maze of choices!

Here are some questions to ask yourself. The answers just may help you identify the mentor you seek.

1. Have you ever had a mentor before? If yes, was it another woman or a man? How did the relationship develop?
2. If you have not had a mentor, think back to when you first knew what you wanted to be "when you grew up." Who and what helped you make your decision?
3. Who has helped you achieve your current position as a leader in the community and in your field.
4. How have role models helped shape your leadership style and roles? Where did you find these role models?
5. In 2007, what are you willing and able to offer to other women who are entering or advancing in your field?
6. What would have helped you early in your journey down your path of interest?
7. What lessons have you learned that might help women who are considering entering your profession?
8. What are some pros and cons of women's position in your field today? Has the situation changed in the last 10 years? If so, how and why?
9. Would you consider becoming a mentor to another woman?

When we are facing personal challenges, friends might suggest we go to a therapist. Many times, however, if we can just find someone to listen to and guide us, we can really solve our own problems. Then, a little bit of help developing and meeting goals can open the door to the success we seek.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD, has worked with women for more than 25 years and has researched women's aging for more than a decade. She founded the WomenSpeak Project so women could support each other in the experience of growing older in a society that does not reward aging. Visit WomenSpeak.com for ongoing research, an E-zine, and resources about Health and Wellness, Relationships, Finances and Aging itself.
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