It’s never too late to bring a mentor into your life

Ginny McReynolds is dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College.

I’ve been asking students at my college what they most need to succeed while they’re here. Many have given the same answer: mentors.

A young man who just returned to school after several years in the Marines said he wished he’d had the chance to talk to other vets turned students so he would have had a better idea of what to expect. Other students have said they wish they knew someone who could help them figure out what the road ahead looks like.

It makes great sense that mentors could help students steer a straighter course, but I think it would be good for all of us to introduce—or reintroduce—the “mentor” concept into our own lives.

I know lots of us have had mentors before; some formal, like professors and employers, other less formal. But, since I’ve been listening to these students, I’ve been thinking that we’re all storehouses of information and experience, and we ought to be seeking it and sharing it with each other much more often.

I don’t just mean sitting around with my friends telling them what you know about writing résumés, or asking for advice on what color to paint the living room. I mean really serving as coaches, guides and shepherds to make everyone’s lives a little easier and more interesting.

When I was younger, I relied on a more formalized mentor system quite regularly. My favorite journalism professor showed me how to get my first job, my first therapist piloted me through my essential disengagement from my parents and a very wise boss steered me in all the right directions whenever I needed to make a career change.

But I find that, as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I haven’t sought out mentors as much. Maybe part of me doesn’t feel I need it, or maybe I’m not sure what I need. But the idea is sticking with me these days. I realize there are lots of things I need to know more about, and there are many, many people I know who can help me. It’s really just bringing myself to ask—and having to face the fact, I suppose—that I don’t know absolutely everything I need to know about living my own life.

I’d like someone like me to give me some guidance, for example, about retirement—not how much money to save (it’s way too late for that), but what to do with my days when suddenly I’m not spending them at work. I’m not just looking for a list of activities here, like golf, volunteering and gardening. I’m looking for a strategy for making the shift from one life to an entirely different one—without becoming profoundly depressed or making my friends and family crazy.

It feels a bit odd to look for a mentor when I’m nearly 60, but, in a way, I can’t think of a better time to recruit a mentor to shine a bit more light on the path ahead.