Paul and Janine O'Rourke

By Paul O'Rourke

I try to be the mentor I wish I had growing up.

It has been my great privilege to be a mentor to many teenagers and adults. It’s a position of trust where I get to help mentorees articulate their feelings, ask questions, share their fears, failures, triumphs, plans and dreams. Together we identify areas for improvement, reflect on disappointments and failures, laugh and cry, set goals, make plans, plot a path, smash down obstacles and overcome, little-by-little.

Sometimes, when it’s appropriate and helpful, I will share my own fears and failures to reassure my mentoree that I am flawed and continue to struggle, fall, rise again, dust myself off, and walk on. I also want them to know I have a mentor because I still need the wisdom of others.

However, my major role is to listen and encourage in equal measure, without judgment, condemnation or giving trite answers to complex questions. Some of my experiences may be similar, but I haven’t walked in their shoes or negotiated their particular path.

People crossing, handle with care

I handle with care because the people I mentor are valuable – they are priceless.

I believe anyone who can set aside their own ego and agenda and listen intently with the intention of championing another’s passion and purpose can be an excellent mentor. You don’t need a degree or have lived a perfect life. Messy is real.

But you do have to care, be able to see the best in others, and be willing to be a constant positive presence. We are not trying to create clones, but self-assured, resilient, confident and resourceful young people who understand their value and place in the world.

We have a responsibility to reach back and give a hand up to those coming behind us; not just our children and grandchildren, but vulnerable children and youth in our midst who need some extra care, particularly in these uncertain and unprecedented times.

Most of us can do a day’s training and commit to 90 minutes a week to be an intentional friend to another through the Devonport Chaplaincy program.

Mentors range from university students to retirees in their seventies, and men and women of all ages in between who come with their unique experiences, flaws and skills.

We can mentor while walking, doing art, woodwork or teaching your mentoree to drive, or helping them with their homework. It’s practical, profound and rewarding.

I grew up in an age before students had access to social workers, career guidance counsellors, chaplains, psychologists and personal mentors. Sometimes I feel like I stumbled through my early life, carried by the currents of circumstances, my own forceful personality, and the expectations of others.

We all need mentors

Some would say it was a simpler, more innocent time, but we still battled with the same childhood angst of negotiating puberty, bullying, abuse and isolation, family dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, sibling rivalry, broken relationships, racism, sexism, school strife, and self-esteem issues.

We had the same fears about not fitting in, not passing maths, or English, or economics, not measuring up, not having any money, not being able to get a job, find a friend, or a safe place to deal with our shame and feelings of inadequacy and despair.

I had “mentors”, influencers who came and went at various times of my life: football coaches, teachers, friends’ parents, work colleagues, bosses, my sisters’ boyfriends, my father-in-law.

They all imparted various forms of wisdom; some good, and some not-so-good. The mentoring was infrequent, haphazard, unstructured, and without any outcomes.

Invest in a young person

I discovered the importance of mentoring far too late. It wasn’t until my forties that I opened up my life to another. I still have a mentor 15 years later.

I wish I had received more intentional mentoring when I was younger; a stable, caring confidant who could have injected courage and strength when mine was failing. Someone who could say the right thing at the right time, ask insightful questions, listen to my heart, share their experience, direct me to resources, people and places that would help me thrive.

However, I can be that person for others.

I invite you to join me.

Click here to find out how you can become a mentor.

* Paul O'Rourke, pictured with wife Janine is the community partnerships manager for Devonport Chaplaincy and Loaves and Fishes Tasmania, and a mentor to several men.