Right out of OT school, I spent a lot of energy worrying about who would be my mentor. Looking back, I should have put more energy into making myself mentorable.
I left school convinced that to have a good career, I needed a good mentor. When the only other OT in my department left to spend more time with her family, I was devastated. I’ve since met other new grads with similar mentorship anxieties; some of them even shy away from jobs where there is not a clear mentoring figure.
I believe that mentorship is one of the most important avenues for growth in our profession. But I wonder if, at times, we too narrowly define what mentoring is, and thus find ourselves simply waiting around for someone to swoop in and help guide that growth.
At its most basic level, mentorship is the process of gaining wisdom from a more experienced colleague. In this relationship, however, the onus isn’t just on the person providing the mentoring; after all, it takes humility, openness, and clarity to truly learn from somebody.
Here’s my advice for getting the most out of your mentorships:
Remember that your mentor may not know he or she is your mentor.
This piece of advice stems from the biggest mentorship myth that I needed to dispel: that I needed someone to knowingly take me under his or her wing. How I got such a fixed idea of what mentorship looks like, I can’t recall. I wanted a contractual relationship that involved scheduled meetings: getting together over coffee every Friday afternoon, for example. Instead, I’ve gotten something better. I’ve experienced a myriad of moments, conversations, and encounters with people I would not have pegged as the “mentoring type.” There is an authenticity in learning from people when they’re not even aware that they’re teaching.
Watch how seasoned therapists navigate tough situations.
Simply observing a more experienced therapist handle a challenge may actually be more valuable than grabbing a cup of coffee with him or her. In my first year as an OT, I royally botched a family meeting and watched my supervisor clean up the mess. I don’t think we ever explicitly talked about the situation, but we didn’t need to, because I saw, firsthand, the difference between my handling of the situation versus his (far better) approach—and I learned.
Know that quality trumps quantity.
Sometimes it only takes one conversation to bring clarity to a particular situation—or, in my case, the entire course of my career. I really admired our PRN OT during my first job. I think we only had lunch together once, but she took the time to ask me what my ideal job would look like. A couple years later, I received an offer of this exact job. The catch, however, was that I would be working for way less compensation, which made it tough to decide if it was worth giving up my comfortable hospital job. During the decision making process, I often thought back to that lunch. If my desire hadn’t been crystallized by that conversation, I don’t think I would have had the courage to take the leap into a more rewarding practice.
Keep in mind: your mentor may not have a therapy background.
Often, the areas in which we need the most growth do not involve our clinical skills. I’m talking about things like leadership, effective processing techniques, compassion, and having the courage to put the patient first. As you can tell from this list, there is much to gain from professionals outside of the therapy field.
If you do, indeed, have that full-time mentor we all dreamed about in school—that’s wonderful. But if you find yourself struggling with mentorship anxiety, I hope you take this advice to heart and make yourself more mentorable.