Life blessed me with a gaggle of nieces and nephews, but I never had kids. While in many ways not having children worked for my lifestyle, there are some things I missed out on: the major awe factor that comes with being with toddlers, the wit of teenagers and now, the no grandchildren factor.

The Willamette Writers organization in Oregon matched me with one of their Young Willamette Writer members. Enter Jane (not her real name). Jane is the sixteen-year-old who I mentor. It’s been almost a year since we embarked on the journey.

I don’t function as writing “teacher,” but I do tell her about everything that I have learned and everything that I am learning regarding writing.

 
 

She and I can talk process with the best of them. The whole idea of mentoring is to share your life experiences with someone younger who has your same interests. There are hundreds of reasons that mentoring can be such a joy at this stage of life, and I’ve listed a few of my favorites in this article.

Seeing the World Through Your Mentees’ Eyes

No one among your peers is ever going to have the kind of wit that a teenager does. Seeing the world through Jane’s eyes delights me and makes me laugh. For example, she once told me that the characters in her novel have a better love life than she does!

Learning the Joy of Reciprocity

While I download a lot of information into that witty little brain of hers, I also have an open door to ask questions. That makes for a reciprocal relationship. She has given me insight into how a young person sees this world.

At times, that insight is humbling and at other times, downright profound. And, of course, I answer her questions, too – some of them life related and some of them writing related.

Experiencing How Your Wisdom is Truly Appreciated

She parrots things I tell her. Okay, this one is a thrill, in part because she thinks I’m smart but more because repeating things back to me is the indication that she is integrating what I’ve laid out about writing. As she so aptly mentioned the other week “Cliché strips your story of meaning.” You go, girl.

Appreciating the Synergy of Young and Old

Her energy and vitality is refreshing. When we have our phone session later today, she will tell me about the 50 things she did over the holiday break and I will confess that I stayed in my pajamas all day on Christmas. And we will both laugh. She gets to see that the world is made up of young and old and she can use that in her writing.

Mentoring is a Two-Way Street

I share with her what I struggle with in writing, what I think my strengths and weaknesses are. I give very specific examples. She follows suit, and in this way, I learn from her every time I work with her. Mentoring can be a two-way street.

Leaving a Meaningful Legacy

I get to have a relationship with a young person who will likely outlive me. And in doing so, I feel like I’ve given away and shared the gifts that I was blessed with. I will have left my writing gems in good hands with Jane.

As elders, we have so much to offer a younger world. Any of our expertise from knitting to business, to art and writing is rich fodder for a young mind and provides helpful tools along their path.

Jane and I meet weekly by phone. I met her in person last year when I chaperoned a group of kids around their first ever Willamette Writers Conference. I will get to repeat that event this year.

Forty-eight years separate us, and the delight of the relationship is how much we share as artists, writers, women and lovers of life. My mentee will complete her first novel in 2017 and I will be so proud to say that I gave her the little nudge that she needed to do it. I know a lot of grown-ups that can’t take their writing that far.

Do you mentor someone? What benefits of mentoring do you most enjoy? Have you ever thought of working with a young person in this way? Please share your thoughts.

Stephanie RaffelockStephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. In her Sixty and Me column, she explores writing, living fully and loving well. She enjoys literary representation by Dystel, Goderich and Bouret in New York. You can find Stephanie at StephanieRaffelock.com or Tweet her @Sraffelock.

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