In September, I was lucky enough to sign up to the University of Brighton’s mentoring scheme, which gave me a free mentor in the local community. I was a little nervous during my first online meeting, because I didn’t know what to expect at all – I just knew that I was determined to grow as a person, and had had a brilliant experience with a free employability mentor (through my mum’s industry), in the past. He had mentored me through a rough patch that most people will be able to relate to, having felt isolated through the first half of COVID-19. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to form great relationships with people I live with, and have a few good friends nearby, so I don’t feel as alone as I once did. I also delivered presentations during my first few weeks of placement that got me over my fear of public speaking, and settled into classroom learning once more. Face-to-face coffees and walks along the beach leave you feeling so much more connected but I have learned that you can still have good quality conversations through voice-notes, video calls and messaging services. If you can imagine me, a mouse, shyly opening my front camera, hoping to turn into a tiger (my favourite animal and member of the cat family) – and here are all of the things I have learned since then, that I would like to document to remember throughout this journey.
1. What success means varies from person to person
I have been so lucky to work with someone who thinks in a unique way due to years of international travel. This meant that I had someone to bounce ideas off who had practiced things I had half-thought, and explored ideas that I hadn’t fully realised. Innate qualities such as resilience in the face of adversity are elements of the personality that travellers, nomads and expats practice all the time. Soon, I was reading books such as How to Move Abroad, and found a similarity between what my mentor was saying, and the outlook of the optimistic writer. People who move abroad for lengthy amounts of time learn a new language and immerse themselves in a new culture. I learned that, due to my love of books and art, I had always placed an emphasis on success being tied to cultural experiences, but having a mentor gave me the ability to write that into my own language. Soon, I was delivering online presentations on what my concept of success was, and we had to decipher which parts had been handed to me from other people’s expectations. I learned that it would matter to me one day to have a mortgage, settle down, and have children – but not until the age of thirty-five. There were life experiences such as travelling, developing professionally, growing on a personal level, and having time to write that I wanted to have first.
2. ‘When you know what you want, you work in that direction‘
My mentor said these words to me and it became clear why I was having the experience of working with Pepa: I had to discover all of my values, beliefs and dreams. Life is just as much about creating your own blue-print for happiness, as it is about discovering. It is a balancing act between being adaptable in the face of swift changes that nobody can prevent, and having a loose plan tied to your goals. Because my mentor really believed in herself, she believed in me, and I noticed that everything I had asked for when I signed up to the scheme came true; for example, I had asked for someone with a focus on empowering other women. I had deep conversations about causality and the universe, and how you can create your own reality. I will tag Pepa’s Instagram here, so you can see for yourself what that looks like.
3. Check when your mind is telling you negative things
This is a practice that is surprisingly difficult, because your inner voice is something that you’ve always known, whether that’s picked up from school or jobs. It is not always helpful because it draws a limiting box around your capabilities, and tells you you might fail. Of course, this could be dressed up as well-meaning comments from people who don’t want to see you face problems – but we always face problems in life, and our greatest asset is the ability to be resilient. To do this, we must overcome the negative and limiting beliefs that we are handed by others, or bad experiences. Pepa and I discussed that it wasn’t about succumbing to toxic positivity – and even if other people found our optimism annoying, so what? There are worst things to be than an eternal optimist. Someone who has faith in themselves and their own abilities will encounter the same obstacles as someone who doesn’t, but the difference is that they will try different routes, or adapt to a completely new path that nobody ever thought to take. When my placement got paused in the late autumn, I felt stuck and hopeless. But Pepa encouraged me to use the experience of having time off wisely, and rest, volunteer, write, develop as a person: you name it, I’ve ordered the book on it! A few of my friends felt encouraged in their own lives to see me blossoming and becoming more confident in conversation, expressing ideas and thoughts in a less self-deprecating way. I knew that a lot of that newfound belief in myself was down to my mentoring scheme, and I feel so grateful to have had this experience.
4. Be prepared for years of difficulty, and persevere
Pepa and I looked at all of my goals, and narrowed them down. So, I wanted to write a novel that would be published, work towards a PhD, gain experience in the academic discipline of Art History, travel, and work in an art museum. We combined all of those goals into achievable targets that put getting a mortgage on a back foot. For me to move abroad and be a teacher overseas, I had to continue with the possibility of gaining a teaching qualification during a global pandemic, something I wasn’t sure I was able to do. I had to put myself out there and gain experience in an art gallery to make sure it was something I wanted to pursue as a career goal. This also meant I changed the way I thought about my career – in that it didn’t have to be linear, but it could go sideways. The average person nowadays spends four years in one role, before moving on which means that my dreams of becoming a lecturer, art historian, writer and teacher are all within reach. Something I learned that was crucial for the sake of mindfulness was that it’s not about the end goal; it’s about the journey itself, and stopping to smell the flowers along the way. I began to take long walks in the countryside and by the sea every time I wanted a different perspective, and ended up having a deep conversation with a musician friend on the beach. One conversation with Pepa about motivational speakers had a domino effect on learning from other people what inspired them, and my friend, who had just returned from a few months in Stockholm, was a creative mind who was buzzing with ideas. It genuinely felt like the Law of Attraction was working, and I was gaining clarity by having mutually fulfilling conversations with people all around me. My musician friend told me that he took so many risks in art because he knew he would be able to say that he had ‘really lived’. As a creative, he had taken an unconventional route in life, gigging all over London and Nottingham, and truly felt (both the negative and the positive). This created a new spin on all that I thought about risk-taking, and aligned with what my mentor was telling me about persevering. Expect difficulty, but have a good time while you overcome the obstacles!
5. You get out what you put in
For any mentoring scheme to work, it must be a two-way street that creates involvement for both parties. Luckily, Pepa knew this all along and encouraged me to tailor the months of mentoring to suit my self-development goals. This meant we could collaborate on presentations and plans to effectively use the time – for instance, I knew that I wanted to hear travel stories from someone who had many. I also wanted to create a presentation on what my concept of adventure was. I learned that I wanted to smell the freshly baked baguettes in France and see the long, white curtains of a Parisian apartment or hotel room blowing through the window. I had more conversations with friends who had lived abroad, asking for their opinions on the good and bad, and found that some preferred the sense of community and relaxed way of life in Spain, whereas others preferred the ability to back-pack through Asia on weekends off. I opened my mind to new experiences, and the idea that I had set foundations for appreciating the visual arts by the weekend trips I had taken alone to museums in Vienna and Milan. Aged twenty, I knew nobody who wanted to go to Berlin, so I said ‘Yes!’ to a travel-writing experience abroad, and spent a month writing and moving freely across the U-Bahn service. I had to draw from my own experiences that had been fulfilling, which I had forgotten about over the years, in order to relate to the mindset of eternal travellers like Pepa and my nomadic friends.
6. You don’t have to pave a new path – you can follow others
Pepa encouraged me to look at the work of Lisa Nichols, who started motivational speaking as a single mum who had been on welfare benefits. She changed her life entirely and now travels the world, inspiring others and her child. Lisa Nichols also aligned with what I needed to do as a teacher – I had to build a connection with the ‘audience’ and challenge them to be the best version of themselves, leaving them feeling hopeful. You can research motivational speakers and people who have done what you want to do easily, in a way that helps you see yourself in their story and gives you that lift to imagine you can achieve obstacles too.
7. Set out your expectations of relationships
Pepa told me two stories about friends who had written down what they wanted – to the exact detail of beards, hair and height – in someone. It wasn’t just based on appearance, obviously – it was based on core values, and things that they would never accept again. This put a positive spin on the trial-and-error paths people take in relationships – because we have to use them as a learning experience, even if they aren’t overall the most enjoyable times. In a psychological sense, it keeps you filtering out the people who don’t enhance your life, in a polite and distanced way.
8. I learned what truly mattered to my core
Through my conversations with Pepa, in a non-judgemental environment, I learned to be more self-aware. When we picked out positive experiences, such as having a respectful and considerate friendship group while I was growing up, we realised that I placed an emphasis on good manners and basic respect. Pepa encouraged me to strive for not a basic foundation of respect but a certain level of it, if it meant so much to me. Yes, that means having high standards. It wasn’t about knowing a certain etiquette, it was about human decency and consideration. It meant I could filter out the blips and negative experiences when I came across people who thought on a completely different level, and I could simply think ‘That’s not for me’ and move on.
9. I learned that I didn’t have to put a label on anything
In my early twenties, I was focused on labelling aspects of my identity, personality and romantic orientation. I would want to definitely box myself as one or the other, even somewhere in-between, if it meant that I had a set label that was comforting. I learned to go with the flow when it came to assessing my own identity, and see experiences in a less black-and-white way. Having a mentor helped because I could bounce ideas off someone who had walked a similar path. More than that, it helped to know that everyone gets confused about what they want when they are in their twenties – and this spurred on fulfilling conversations with the girls I had as friends back home! We spoke about everything from how to organise and detox your life for the new year, and how to set intentions. I realised that having a loose plan worked better than a steady goal to work towards, because they could be restrictive sometimes – it mattered to have direction, but not limitations.
10. Everyone shines when someone sees their glow
I had most wished for someone who could empower another woman who wasn’t as confident, and that’s exactly what I got. I learned that people really do respond when they are nurtured for their glow, and working with such a wonderful mentor inspired me to be a better listener myself, using the skills Pepa modelled for me on a fortnightly basis.