Monday, April 10, 2017

Mentor Me!

“Ajay is a talented boy, but padhaai mein uska bilkul dhyaan nahi hain. He enjoys playing football and wants to be a footballer. But he needs to get through school first and finish his basic education.” And with these words began my journey as Ajay’s mentor. It’s been ten months now since then and Ajay and I have now become friends who meet every weekend discussing a gamut of interest areas ranging from Messi to the milky-way.

A reserved teen, Ajay, when I first met him through Mentor-Me India’s (MMI) mentoring initiative, was difficult to communicate with and, wary of my efforts in trying to reach out to him. Communication, I was told, was going to be one of the big challenges I would encounter in my mentoring journey with him. Add to that the swinging temperaments of a moody 16 year old whose view point of the world swayed along a callibrated scale that ranged from consuming passion to abject indifference, with skepticism playing the balancing act across the two extremities!

I knew it was going to be an uphill task when I signed-up with MMI; and the demand on my time is not what I’m referring to. Nothing quite prepares you in your journey as a mentor, as much as the experience of going through that journey itself. You may prepare all you want but make peace you will eventually with the fact that you’ll never quite be prepared. And so much as I would strategise and plan activities to break ice and befriend my mentee Ajay, he’d seem one-up on me, everytime, in derailing all of those with an agenda that’d convince me he was out to teach me a thing or two about dealing with ambiguity and, convince me that there was no such thing as coming planned for our encounters. That learning still continues!

I am now wiser in knowing that relationships – of this kind or any other for that matter – are organic. You could wish for them to be this way or the other and plan accordingly; fact is no amount of wishing and planning will get you anywhere. You’ve got to be at it and in it to experience what it has to offer and then take guided calls to manoeuvre it in the interest of the involved stakeholders. And nothing teaches you that better than an experience like this (marriage of-course is the other!)
So while I now mentally go about figuring how to make my interactions with Ajay a lot more engaging through fun and learning, I have also learnt how to curate plans on the go when he chooses to take the lead in structuring how he’d like to spend the session. It makes me happy to see him do this because to my mind, this is proof of the needle having moved on the behavioural compass along the axis of time. Ajay today is seemingly more confident and communicative than he was ten months ago. While he still wants to be a footballer, he now also realises that he likes studying (he’s been a first class student even with all of that last minute studying) and that a good academic foundation besides the quality of his game, will help him bag the necessary scholarships for a career as a sportsman.

And while I’d like to believe I’ve had some role to play in this transformational journey of his through our regular mentoring interactions over the year , I believe he is mentoring me more that I could have imagined mentoring him through the process. He continues to teach me an invaluable lesson – all children and youth deserve to be treated as individuals in their own right with unique identities of their own. I’m humbly learning that you may not agree with all of their opinions or world views but listen to them you must, show them respect, you must! Doing this has helped catalyse the buy-in process and built my credibility with Ajay. Importantly it has taught me, as much as it has him, to value and work on real-time feedback, besides promoting healthy debate for acceptance and exchange of divergent ideas. Nothing facilitates tolerance and builds healthy respect between individuals as much as this exposure.

Experiences such as these have made me realise while we all have our own journeys to make, no two journeys are ever, if at all, the same. And so there can never really be one best approach to addressing a situation because best in itself is relative.

Thank you MMI for reinforcing this learning through the opportunity you’ve provided!

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