How Mentoring Taught Me To Embrace My Passions

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Sherry Yang joined Mentorloop in March 2022 as an intern in our Product and Engineering team after finishing her Master of IT degree from RMIT University. She is now a full-time Software Engineer at Mentorloop.

Joining Mentorloop gave her her first real look into mentoring programs and formal mentoring relationships. With that came a reflection on her pre-conceptions about mentoring and the informal mentoring experiences that have changed her life. In this article, she shares her thoughts on mentoring, how they’ve changed, and some lessons she’s learned along the way.

My Initial Impressions About Mentoring

As a student, my impression of mentoring was pretty straightforward. I believed that in a mentoring relationship, mentors, who are armed with skills (both hard and soft skills) and expertise that mentees lack, play a vital role in helping their mentees enhance those skills and learn from their expertise. I viewed mentoring as predominantly a teaching role. 

However, my perspective evolved as I delved deeper into the actual dynamics of mentoring relationships. While my initial impression is still true, I learned that mentoring is so much more than that. I’ve come to see mentoring as more than a means to transfer skills, but a way to facilitate growth in many ways. I now know that mentors aren’t just teachers. Good mentors provide guidance and support beyond just teaching mentees skills and sharing knowledge. They also help their mentees navigate challenges, make informed decisions, and build their confidence. Knowing this, I looked back on my mentoring experiences and what I learned from them.

More Than A Math Teacher

My first mentor was actually my middle school mathematics teacher. I met her in the classroom, but what set her apart from my other teachers was that she recognised my strengths in maths and worked with me to nurture these strengths.

Obviously, it’s a teacher’s responsibility to instruct and educate students, but she went beyond the standard curriculum and took a keen interest in her students’ individual abilities and potential. As she recognised my talent for mathematics, she not only encouraged me but also provided additional support and challenged me to develop and excel in this area. And as pivotal as she was in my educational journey, she also made a positive impact in ways other than just my academic development.

One of the earliest signs of her mentorship’s impact was the noticeable increase in my confidence. With my mentor’s guidance and support, I increasingly became more assured in my abilities and decisions. The encouragement and positive feedback I received helped me start to really believe in myself and my potential. It started to show in simple things like excelling in local math competitions where I was able to use the knowledge and problem-solving skills I had acquired through my mentor. It obviously helped me perform well in school, but it also taught me the importance of recognising and nurturing talents in others.

As I saw improvements in my academic knowledge and skills, I was also developing a deep and lasting capacity for logical thinking and problem-solving – skills that became a cornerstone of my academic growth. Over time, my mentor’s guidance and support translated into improvements in other areas of my life as well. I started to have more self-belief in my potential and deepened my interest in learning. All of that gave me the confidence to aspire to achieve, embrace new challenges, and seize opportunities for self-improvement and continuous learning – all of which still benefit me in my current work as a software engineer.

Nurturing My Interests 

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from my first mentor is the importance of staying true to my interests and passions. She instilled in me the idea that if I genuinely enjoy something, I should hold onto that interest and nurture it. She emphasized the significance of pursuing what genuinely excites and motivates me and by encouraging me to keep my interests, my mentor taught me that your passion for your interests can be a driving force in both personal and professional endeavours. It’s the spark that fuels motivation, creativity, and the pursuit of excellence. This lesson has been a guiding principle in my life, reminding me that genuine enthusiasm and dedication to my interests can lead to fulfilling and meaningful experiences.

My mentor’s advice to maintain my interests has been an invaluable lesson that has shaped my approach to life, work, and personal growth, emphasizing the significance of passion and enthusiasm in my pursuits. Looking back, her influence was probably one of the reasons I pursued the line of work I’m in now. 

Manager and Mentor

My first job was working as an interest conflict analyst for new cases and clients at an international law firm specializing in protecting intellectual property. I’ve been very fortunate in that my line manager there became a mentor for me as well. She was a great boss, but beyond that, I really valued the care she had for me and my development as a person. Beyond her role in the workplace, she went above and beyond to provide guidance and support that extended well beyond my time at the company and was never limited to work-related matters.

Her support was exceptionally valuable when I made the significant decision to relocate to Melbourne for a fresh start after working at the law firm for three years. She had previously lived in Melbourne and understood the challenges of adapting to a new country such as primarily communicating with a second language, adjusting to a different culture, and everything else that this kind of move entails. 

So when I shared that I was making this move, she generously shared her experiences and knowledge, offering suggestions and practical guidance on how to quickly adapt to this foreign city. She even introduced me to connections in Melbourne so I could start building a network before I even landed in Australia. She was instrumental in helping me build confidence and have the tools needed to navigate this new environment successfully, as well as feel welcome and secure in an unfamiliar place.

From Mentee to Mentor

As I was doing my master’s degree at RMIT in Melbourne, an opportunity to mentor came about as a result of good academic performance. RMIT offered the chance for students who excelled in their IT studies to register as volunteer peer mentors. The mentorship was designed to be short-term, focusing on helping students with their IT coursework and guiding them in solving assignment problems. I decided to take on this role and committed to dedicating two hours per week to spending time with fellow students and giving them guidance in their studies and in some ways, also in other aspects of uni life.

This experience was surprisingly incredibly rewarding for me

I found great satisfaction and joy in helping other students succeed in their academic pursuits. It felt good to see the positive impact I had through guiding and assisting other students on their journeys and it was very fulfilling to see them succeed academically. I felt privileged to be a positive part of their educational journey.

It reminded me of the positive impact that a dedicated and supportive mentor, like I had in middle school, can have on a student’s development and the long-lasting influence that such a mentor can leave on someone. So, it was a satisfying, full-circle experience to be that mentor, in a small way, for other people.

Mentoring also allowed me to revisit and reinforce my knowledge of the field I was studying. Explaining complex concepts and helping others with their assignments required a deep understanding of the subject matter so being a mentor encouraged me to review and refresh my own understanding of the topics, which, in turn, enhanced my own mastery.

I also learned a lot from my mentees. The most important thing I learned from them is the importance of not being afraid to ask for help when you need it, and to keep on asking until you are satisfied. I realised that a lot of times, we are reluctant to seek guidance and when we do get the courage to do that, we can have the tendency to settle for an okay, but less-than-ideal answer. This can be because we feel that we’re imposing on someone’s time or maybe even that we’re afraid to look silly or stupid. This experience has taught me that asking for help and asking for clarity is a manifestation of curiosity, not a demonstration of stupidity or ignorance. From mentoring others, I learned to embrace the notion of curiosity as a valuable attribute and overcome my hesitations about seeking understanding. 

My Thoughts On Mentoring Now

I now understand mentoring to be a multifaceted endeavour that fosters growth in various aspects. I now know that goes beyond a teaching role that only mentees benefit from. I now know that good mentors not only provide guidance and support for addressing challenges, making informed decisions, and building confidence, but they also are open to learning from those they mentor. 

My experience as a mentor also reinforced the idea that learning is a two-way street. Not only was I able to share my knowledge and skills, but I also continued to learn and grow through the process. It underscored the value of mentorship and the mutual benefits that it can offer both mentors and mentees.

Now more than ever, I value the power of mentorship in boosting people’s confidence and helping each other stay true to our passions. I’ve been fortunate to have learned early on that pursuing what genuinely excites and motivates me can be a driving force in personal and professional endeavours and I hope to help others do the same.

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Sherry Yang
Sherry Yang
Sherry is a software engineer at Mentorloop. She is a gaming and Lego enthusiast who lives with her two adorable cats, Huahua and Ivory. In her free time, she also likes reading fiction and is a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series and The Three-Body Problem.

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