Here are 10 mentoring stories from my own life which you may want to share with your middle school student with cerebral palsy (CP) about how people pop into our lives to influence our career development.
In fact, we all need a mentoring network of people who guide us (sometimes unknowingly) along the way in building a meaningful career in today’s mainstream job market.
At least, that’s what I’ve learned from my own experience as a person CP. I’m sharing my stories with you in this article, but, of course, there are many more people in my life who have helped shape my career.
A mentor is any adult who guides the development of another person. He or she can provide your junior high school youngster, for instance, with individualized feedback and guidance with his or her specific tasks and adjustment issues in mind.
As a parent, friend or relative who has your youngster’s best interests in mind in terms of a future vocation, you are his or her mentor.
A mentor does not necessarily just teach an individual about the importance of reaching a goal. He or she shows how that person can achieve it. For instance, you may need to help your youngster go beyond "how to do the task" to "how to work around the limitations imposed by CP to be a skillful and reliable performer of that task."
A good mentor assesses all sides of a situation. He or she gives a mentee the freedom to grow at his or her own pace but always challenges that individual to test unchartered, often uncomfortable territory so progress is made toward a goal.
That may seem complicated, but please recognize that you can have an impact on your youngster without conscious effort or knowing it (see my mentoring story below).
For years, companies have had formal mentoring programs for their employees. But, here’s another thing that amuses me. Gaining a mentor sometimes happens through happenstance as an individual deliberately steps into mainstream society. In fact, in my 74 years of life on this Earth, I’ve found mentors often find me first instead of me finding them.
With that said, let me tell you some anecdotes from my own experience.
The first of my mentoring stories
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom, Eileen, had a strong influence on the career I would eventually pursue. She was a teacher and a writer, and she passed those skills on to me, not necessarily through innate talent but through deliberate, sustained (often not exciting) practice.
Despite my CP, she recognized my need to be creative and helped me develop my writing skills, first through teaching me first grade at home (because I flunked first grade in the regular one-room school house a mile from our farm in Wisconsin) and then helping me expand my vocabulary by writing poetry throughout my elementary grades.
Poetry (and laundry) was reserved for weekends because I
completed my remaining seven years of elementary school 60 miles from home in
an orthopedic school for children with disabilities, which I attended during
the week. Note: There was no mainstreaming during the 1950s.
The second of my mentoring stories
My trek from home to school Monday mornings and school to home Friday afternoons aboard a Greyhound bus with lots of colorful folk as fellow passengers (some not so sober) helped me escape my shyness and lack of self-confidence as a 10-year-old.
My favorite Greyhound bus driver was “Red,” a well-build man
with neatly trimmed red hair who wore superbly tailored light blue shirts and
blue pants with as red stripe running down the outside of each leg. I wanted to someday dress like Red.
The third of my mentoring stories
Then I learned teamwork when I came home to attend my “regular” local high school.
Through Coach Ron’s influence, I became the locker room clean-up guy for the football team and ran the “riding” clock during wrestling matches. Though both occurred in1959 and 1960 and were tangential to the public team effort, I still find those experiences valuable in my business dealings.
The fourth of my mentoring stories
During the 1960s (a decade before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), I had two college roommates, Jerry and Tom, who helped me “mainstream” into college life by offering the transportation I needed to get to class and to build a social life on campus.
The fifth of my mentoring stories
When I landed my first job after college, there were fellow employees Dean, Earl, LeRoy and Don, who each, in his own way, showed me how to navigate and survive career-wise as a young and impulsive public relations assistant in a rapidly growing business.
The sixth of my mentoring stories
As the business grew and I grew with it, I eventually became vice president for corporate communication and had a staff of my own. Russ, Ed, Carol, Nancy and Joan – even though they each reported to me on the organizational chart – became my mentors, too, because they helped me understand the pre-ADA misconceptions that I was still battling within the company about my own disability as well as clarify my own false assumptions about my own capabilities.
The seventh of my mentoring stories
When I decided to end my 28-year stint with the company, career counselor Lynn popped into my life as I deliberately sought help from a mainstream career management service for executives with a national network to help with my career transition.
In 1992, Lynn, and the company’s entire career counseling service, by the way, had not previously worked with a single client who happened to have a disability. Through her encouragement, I wrote my first book, “Break Out: Finding Freedom When You Don’t Quite Fit the Mold” (Quixote Press, 1996).
The eighth of my mentoring stories
Then, in a 1992 leadership development seminar (where, as usual, I was the only participant with a disability), I met adjunct Professor Jack, an executive with pharmaceutical and consumer products experience at the vice presidential level. He also had experience coaching a college student with CP and became my mentor at just the right time, when I was establishing my own small business.
The ninth of my mentoring stories
Lynn, Jack and my next employers (John, Ruth-Ellen and Nancy), helped me refocus my career on writing about disability employment issues, and that eventually led to publication of my second book, “Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities” (AMACOM, 2011).
The last of my mentoring stories
Between 2008 and 2011, I also learned a lot about establishing an Internet business through a "mastermind" group consisting of Karen, Lu, Barbara, Jeanie and myself. We met every month and mentored each other via a telephone conference that connected us from two cities in Canada and three cities in the U.S. We originally met each other online through a webinar.
All of these people helped me jump from my isolation as a person with a disability to a more confident, accomplishing participant with the mainstream of U.S. society. Without them, I would have remained self-centered, naive, unchallenged, and unfulfilled.
Those are my mentoring stories. As a mentor for your junior high student with CP, you are now a part of your youngster’s essential mentoring network, which will expand as he or she develops a meaningful career. Yes, it takes time and it is work, but it’s worth it.