As the gift giving frenzy brought by the holiday season is coming to a close, I have been thinking about the gifts we give that are truly of ourselves – what no one else can give. While we spend our time working in exchange for money and often trade the money for gifts we give to those we care about, there are gifts that money cannot buy. Time is one such gift.
One of the ways I spend my time is as part of a group called MERLIN mentors, which matches teams of experienced business people with fresh entrepreneurs. I believe in the mission of the organization – to help build successful entrepreneurs. While some people might feel that mentors are gifting their time and experience, my contribution doesn’t feel quite so selfless.
While I may be helping the person I am mentoring, I am also learning. Entrepreneurs are often spirited and independent, which can sometimes be a challenge in asking for and accepting help. Often I am working on my communication skills – Was I listening for the subtle clues about the real problems under the surface of the obvious problems? Did I share information in a way that was clear yet allowed them to make their own decision? Since MERLIN matches people across industries, I am almost always (passively or actively) learning about the dynamics of other markets.
I called this post The Gift of the Mentor as a nod to a short story called The Gift of the Magi (by O. Henry, pen name for William Sydney Porter). In the story, each person in a couple gives up their most prized possession to provide the other person something meant for what the other values most. The woman cuts her long hair to acquire a chain for the man’s pocket watch, while the man sells his pocket watch to buy her combs for her hair. For me, The Gift of the Mentor comes when the people involved are willing to not only give of themselves but learn from each other.