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Mentorship: Paying it Forward, but Sending Back Hugs

March 6, 2018

In the process completing a job application recently, I contacted my MFA graduate committee to ask if any of them would be willing to help me revise my cover letter.  They provided me not only with insight and thoughtful feedback, but also markups of the document.  It became something of a multi-person digital conversation.  Not surprisingly, the cover letter has gotten vastly better in the process.  This got me thinking about the value of mentorship, and how, when it works, it really can be a lifelong relationship.

Ladies and gentlemen, I graduated with my MFA almost seven years ago.  It seems normal to continue to exchange holiday cards and the occasional e-mail update, and for the first few years after graduation, I’ll admit that I knocked on the e-mail doors of my various professors on a regular basis when I needed academic references or letters of recommendation. The remarkable thing is that I am still comfortable asking for help after so many years, and they are willing to jump right in with both feet and give that help, even though they are busy with their jobs as educators, researchers, and theatre professionals.

Though I am still a long-term mentee,  I am at a point in my career (especially as a professor, but occasionally as a colleague or theatrical director) when I am frequently asked to write letters of recommendation.  The shoe is on the other foot, and it would seem a good number of people are looking up to me as a mentor.  I have students from past years tracking me down in the hallways and asking me to critique and/or give advice for their current theatrical work or vocal development.  In the past three months or so, I have written and submitted at least five letters of recommendation for college programs, jobs, and leadership organizations.

Is this the academic circle of life?  In general, it appears to be a pay-it-forward system.  It has me wondering, actually, if seven years from now my students will remember me and the things I’ve taught them.  Will any of them drop me a line and ask for help with a cover letter or another academic or work related endeavor?  I like to think that I will be just as happy to help as those members of my graduate committee.  Maybe I can repay them by paying it forward.

In the meantime, I am seriously considering sending them flowers or a fruit basket.  At the very least, while paying the mentorship effort forward, I think I should occasionally send back a thank you and remember that nobody has to be a mentor.  It is a wonderful, special, amazing relationship that at the very least should make a mentee want to send back a few hugs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 17, 2018 8:05 am

    Well said!

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