A duo's experience inspired by OYWConnects
Looking into the future, life seems like an exercise in planning. But looking into the past, it becomes all too obvious just how much of life comes down to chance. If you think about it, where you take your first breath depends on the ticket you were dealt in the lottery of birth. And where you start out in life still has awfully much do to with where you can go from there.
The lottery of birth is a blessing for some, a mixed bag for many more, and a grim reality for most. But regardless of where on that spectrum you find yourself, there are things you can do, things in your control, to mitigate chance and take ownership of your journey through life.
Here’s the good news:
To do well, you don’t need to start life from a pole position. Far more important to the course of your journey are the relationships you forge at every step of the way. Investing in people pays dividends; and mentorship is a great mechanism for putting people first. Here are three ways of leveraging mentorship to take ownership of your career.
1. Make mentorship part of your daily routine
Mentorship doesn’t have to be part of a formal program. We’re challenged to learn and grow every day and are surrounded by people who can help us do that and are willing to help. If you come across someone who has the insights or knowhow you need, ask for help and build a connection. And vice-versa, if you see someone who could use your help, offer support. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from one another and just how much of an impact mentorship can have when done daily.
2. Keep the relationship inclusive and reciprocal
It’s easy to take on fixed roles in mentorship situations. But mentors – by virtue of their experience – can be behind the times and in need of a fresh perspective. And mentees don’t just have to absorb insights; they can give them their own twist and turn them into something altogether new. Mentorship is a learning-journey for both mentors and mentees and most effective when both sides understand that to be the case. Mentorship isn’t a lecture; it’s a passionate seminar that’s buzzing with ideas.
3. Turn mentorship connections into communities
No mentor is a jack of all trades, and no mentee has just one role model. Different situations call for different kinds of expertise. So, we should think of mentorship as a web of relationships, and not a one-stop-shop. The real power of mentorship lies in the synergies we create between many different mentors and mentees, synergies that create a diverse, thriving community with a shared hunger to learn and a willingness to help. It’s a community you can always count on whatever the situation.
Once you commit to learning and helping continuously,
To doing so in an inclusive fashion, and to creating synergies from the relationships you build along the way, you begin to take ownership of your career. You embrace whatever card you’re dealt, knowing that there’s a bigger stack of cards out there. Yes, we’re all shaped by chance, but it’s by coming together, by using the advantages that are unique to us for mutual gain, that we can take back control.
Now, maybe you’ve read some version of this article before and think these three ways of leveraging mentorship are just clichés; but take your co-authors’ journeys as a case in point.
John Jairo was born in rural Kenya – neither into poverty nor into wealth, but somewhere in between – and today, just 25 years later, he is the Founder & CEO of O’learn, a Nairobi-based education start-up. In its three years of operation, O’learn has developed and delivered textbooks to 4,000 students, who couldn’t have completed school without them. And 2,800 students have graduated from O’learn’s coaching program, developing leadership skills to get ahead and to drive impact locally.
Was John destined to be CEO? No, but he made it anyway.
Alexander Wegner was born in eastern Germany, adopted when he was just two weeks old, and raised in a small-town neighborhood of middle-class families – an hour’s train-ride from Berlin. He was the first in his family, and perhaps the only one in his community, to study at Germany’s most prestigious boarding school and to then complete higher education abroad at two leading US universities. Today, 30 years later, he is Vice President at Teneo, the global CEO advisory firm, and based in Dubai.
Was Alexander’s path obvious? No, but he still took it.
When One Young World (OYW) and the Social Innovation Warehouse invited us to join their peer mentoring program, OYW Connects, in 2020, we quickly discovered that relationships were the foundation of our journeys. The scholarships we had won, the referrals that had led to exciting opportunities, and the perspectives we had been exposed to that had send us into new directions: none would have been possible without people investing in us and vice-versa.
But we were lucky. We grew up in communities where, with enough effort, such relationships could be formed. Yet for many out there, that’s not the case. Formal mentorship programs like OYW Connects matter: they bridge communities, open doors that would otherwise remain shut, and mitigate the lottery of birth. Scaling them is key to a more equitable world!
So, the next time you think you’re stuck in your career,
And feel like the odds are stacked against you, don’t despair.
Take a deep breath, take a step back, and pin-down the problem you’re trying to solve.
Who within your network can you approach to help you tackle it?
We’re all at the whim of chance, but because we’re all in it together, we can all come together, and take ownership of our careers.
Don’t dread the draw! Learn leveraging it to your advantage.