Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On being mentored

Julie, 1963, aged 15Living in a country town of 800 people limits not only your options, but also your horizons: you watch your feet rather than the road ahead. In a village this size, where turnover is low, new blood mixes slowly.

Julie, 1965 aged 17Luckily for this little blow-in, the headmaster of the public school was also a stranger. A staunch Roman Catholic with 13 children, I went to his house each Saturday afternoon where he would chat to me about the book I had just finished, suggest others and leave me to choose from his extensive home library. He introduced me to both Hemingway and Steinbeck. In 1962 - the year I was 14 - I must have had a busy Saturday, as the mornings were spent learning to type on the kitchen table of the wife of the Anglican Rector. As I typed she would sit opposite and shell peas or read me poetry. To this day, I have to look for keys along the top row because she gave birth before we reached it!

My third mentor during my teenage years was in 1967, where in a desperate need to belong, I took instruction in Catholicism. By then I had moved to a large industrial town and was boarding with a family while my university life crashed down around my ears. Once again my Saturday afternoon was devoted to chatting to someone whom I trusted and looked up to: Hemingway gave way to the theological thoughts of Schillebeckx. In August that year I entered a mental hospital. From there on out, I have been my own mentor.

Julie, 1972 aged 24A mentor is not someone who gives advice: rather a mentor should open up options. A mentor is a facilitator not a teacher. People are quick to give advice but expect the listener to take that advice. Rarely is advice given to open up options, rather it is given to narrow them.

When I was about 14, I confided to my mother that I wanted to be a doctor. She became angry with me and said that was a stupid thing to say because girls could only become nurses. When I finished High School, I won two scholarships: one gave me enough to live on but tied me to being a teacher. The other placed no restrictions but gave less money and I would have to both work and rely on my folks. I asked my father for advice; he declined, saying that his own father had always made his decisions for him and he did not want to do that for me. In 1966 it still grated that, in 1939, his own father would not sign the papers for him to enter the Navy, aged 18. I was told to go to my room and think it through. I went to Teachers' College.

Julie, 2009, aged 61What would it have been good to have a mentor to chat with about?

If you change jobs or towns or states you don't have to change friends. You take the old friends with you and make new friends.

It is okay to like activities that others consider geeky. Different friends fill different needs. Go to films with one. Go to musicals with another. Go on tram walks with complete strangers.

Always be open to influence and be prepared to change. No matter how old you are, change is normal. Don't lock your head and your heart away in the past.

Parents are just people struggling along as best they can.

Don't volunteer too quickly.

Individual talent is not a burden that the world has a responsibility to recognise; it is a treasure that the individual could just privately nurture, if that is their choice.

This piece was written at the behest of Altadena Hiker who is used to my sombre style. If I may, I will decline to tag others in my stead.


Joan Elizabeth said...

Julie, I enjoyed your story -- so many parallels with my own. I remember the teachers scholarship vs commonwealth scholarship dilemna. My parents left me to make up my own mind. I remember the day I took both applications to the post box and made the decision there .... posted the Commonwealth one because it left me free to change my mind despite the lower pay ... glad I did because once outside the country town the possibilities beyond teaching became clear.

altadenahiker said...

Oh Julie, thank you. Thank you. So lovely, graceful, smart. Beautiful opening.

Susan C said...

Julie, That opening paragraph is achingly beautiful.

The whole piece was brilliant and insightful.

I'll be back to read more.

Petrea said...

"...you watch your feet rather than the road ahead." Wow.

Thanks, this is lovely.

PJ said...

Julie, I wasn't comfortable writing mine. You own your piece more completely and that's what makes it so compelling. The photos are, especially the last one, are perfect.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

You are an extraordinary woman.

Ann said...

You write so beautifully. Ah yes, girls became nurses, hairdressers or secretaries until they married someone to look after them, even into the early 70s in working class families. So much wasted talent. One thing you learn with age is that its okay to be who you are.

freefalling said...

Your "sombre style"?
I don't agree.

Julie said...

Golly, I feel overwhelmed by this. ... umm ... thank you.

As Joan and Ann comment, options simply were more restricted in those days. As a parent, I put a lot of heart into ensuring that this stopped with my generation!

Letty, "sombre" meaning not witty or hip. I feel uncomfortable when I try to write outside my style. It took me three days to think this post through - and 3 sheets of A4 with facts and synonyns written at all angles - and about an hour to write.I like to write simply stories, about little people but told with a lot of heart. I also adore punctuation and the physicality of a sentence.

Once again, I thank each of your for your kind words.

altadenahiker said...

Oh, I think you're witty, you're just never frivolous. Evah.

Petrea said...

Oh hi, Letty! I love this tiny world.

Anonymous said...

"Don't volunteer to quickly" or volunteer too much. Your post strikes the perfect balance.

Dutchcloggie said...

A lovely piece. Well written and very thought provoking. I envy folks who, like you, have the patience to let a story soak for a bit until you get the words and emotions just right. It makes it possible to say so much whilst using fewer words to say it.