Several years ago I worked closely with a young woman who struggled with her weight and body image. You’d never know it by looking at her. Sarah* had stunning facial features, a toned, fit body, and wore stylish clothes and tasteful make-up. She appeared self-confident and she easily made new friends.
But as I got to know her more, Sarah’s issues surrounding her self image easily rose to the surface as she described her ongoing battle between what her head was telling her and what her heart was telling her. Although she had never been diagnosed with an eating disorder it was clear that she danced dangerously along the lines of too much – too much focus on weight and physique, too much obsession with calorie counting and treadmill hours clocked, and too much headspace given to glossy magazine images and unattainable ideals.
I spent many afternoons listening to Sarah share her heart and her personal insecurities as we sipped coffee and talked about beauty, truth, and identity, as well as who sets the standards and what we use as our plumb line. She was clearly growing out of her darkness but thin invisible cords still tethered her to faulty thinking and a self depreciating worldview.
It was around that time when several students were entrusted to us in a training school I was leading on our missions campus. One of the girls stood out.
Lindsay* was nineteen, blonde, beautiful, and painfully thin. She seemed to be obsessed with exercise and would never eat her meals in public. We believed she might need professional help beyond what we could provide, but decided that in the interim we would do all we could to support her in her studies and help her live well among our community.
Within the structure of our schools we have what we call one-on-ones – where each student is assigned a staff member that personally checks in on them to see if they need support, to offer prayer, and to encourage them in their life, studies, and faith.
I knew immediately that I would pair Lindsay with the young woman I had been mentoring. I believed that although Sarah still struggled with her own self image issues, she was strong enough and aware enough to not be an enabler to Lindsay and I wholeheartedly believed she would become a great encouragement—and even role model—to her.
I have never seen a young woman grow so fast. Sarah, that is.
As Sarah spent time working with Lindsay – hearing her journey, praying for her, and sharing about her own successes and failures and the keys she had learned for breakthrough – I could see Sarah growing exponentially in her own freedom from those faulty mindsets that had once plagued her mind and heart.
As Sarah was able to see the issues a little more objectively through Lindsay’s words and lifestyle choices, she began to see her own issues in a different light. It was as if the more she helped Lindsay, the more she couldn’t help growing herself.
“No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.” ―Peter F. Drucker
By the end of our six months together when Lindsay completed her training course I could see that Sarah had transformed into a different person. She was taller, more confident, more at peace, and more settled. It was as if she had grow into her own skin.
Yes, Lindsay had grown too, but this story is not about her, it’s about Sarah.
It was because Sarah took her focus off of herself and instead gave herself to the growth of another that she really gained momentum in her own development and personal breakthrough. She wasn’t even trying to “fix” herself; her growth came as a byproduct of helping someone else.
Sarah taught me a lesson that I had known instinctually but hadn’t yet seen played out with such obvious results; she taught me that the best way to grow is to become a mentor. And the best way to invest in others is to become a mentor. It’s a win-win situation.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” ―John C. Crosby
Even though I was technically Sarah’s mentor, I think she may have learned more through her mentoring relationship with Lindsay during those six months. Seeing her own issues reflected back to her in someone younger who she grew to care about very much helped her to understand how to walk into her own greater level of freedom.
I’ve never been more convinced that mentoring is important – for the one being mentored and for the one doing the mentoring. I’m of the strong belief that all women need mentors and all women need to be mentored. It may not be a ‘sit down to coffee once a week’ scenario but it does have to be somewhat intentional in order to really reap the benefits of a mentoring relationship.
Take action // find a mentor.
This means pursuing it, not waiting for it to drop in your lap. Find someone you look up to and attach yourself to them. It’s important to do this with a “live” person that you can actually build relationship with and have two-way dialogue, but you can also be mentored by authors, pastors, or other public figures if you choose wisely what to fill your mind with. You—the one being mentored—are the one that will make or break the mentoring relationship – your measure of humility and vulnerability, your willingness to ask for help and advice, and the tangible ways you determine to make yourself accountable.
Take action // be a mentor.
Put yourself in a position to mentor. It might be in a formal way – become a Big Sister, serve at a youth club or church youth group, staff a summer camp, or become a table leader at your local MOPS chapter. Or it might grow organically out of relationships you form with younger women. Make yourself available to a new mom, go out of your way to encourage young women in your church, or invest some time in a young woman at work who is still finding her feet in the workplace. Even though I would rarely go up to a person and directly say “I’d like to mentor you,” I wouldn’t rule out that option either. If you’re in a place of humility and genuinely wanting to help others (without any selfish ulterior motives), you’ll find that people will welcome your investment into their lives.
I’m absolutely convinced that finding a mentor and being a mentor is one of the absolute best ways we can empower one another.
Friends, do you have a mentor? If so, tell me about one key thing you have learned from a mentoring relationship. If not, does having a mentor appeal to you – why or why not? And tell me, have you ever considered making yourself available to mentor someone else?
p.s. This post is part of 31 Days of Women Empowering Women, as well as part of a larger movement of writers all over the world joining in with The Nester in writing everyday for the month of October. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.
*names have been changed.