What did I learn from mentoring a 17-year-old

Learning, mentoring
It is healthy to be professionally challenged once in a while. And when the challenge comes from a 17-year-old, you really start putting things into perspective. Recently I was mentor for a day for Petru. He is a high school student from Horezu, Romania, sharp, inquisitive, respectful, well informed and super-duper-smart. The purpose of the program was to teach him things, but at the end I feel I had learnt so much more from him.

It is healthy to be professionally challenged once in a while. And when the challenge comes from a 17-year-old, you really start putting things into perspective. Recently I was mentor for a day for Petru. He is a high school student from Horezu, Romania, sharp, inquisitive, respectful, well informed and super-duper-smart.  The purpose of the program was to teach him things, but at the end I feel I had learnt so much more from him. Believe me! Youngsters these days know so much more that my generation did at the same age and being around them really makes you see things different.

The mentoring scheme

Petru shadowed me for one day as part of the initiative “Career for a day“ by Grasp Bruxelles (info available in RO).

The Friday in which Petru was with me was the Friday before few big events: Lord Kings’ hearing for the Security Union portfolio and few days before JC Juncker’s SOTEU. Inside communication teams things were rather …. hectic. I work in a communication team. 🙂

My task was to show Petru how is one normal working day in the European Commission, explain how I nailed my job, talk about different career options. But the long working hours from the previous period drained me out and I was in a semi-depressive stage, with no energy and in the middle of an inner process of questioning myself and my career path. Of course, he had no idea about that.

The Friday 10 a.m. challenge

At 10 a.m. that day I met Petru. When I saw him, I knew: this guy will not make my life easy. He was speaking so fast, so clear, so logic…. We were in a meeting room with others, kicking off the day with introductions. I was still sipping my morning coffee with my eyes still scrolling through last night’s emails for a quick catch-up.

– I don’t really know what I am interested in. Maybe mathematics, maybe research, maybe something else, Petru said.
I stopped from everything.
– Wait, wait, what?! You said in your motivation letter that you are interested in communication and PR. I heard nothing about that….
–   …because I might be not.

He smiled wickedly.

Others in the room started laughing. OK, people, this is not funny, the guy is a mathematician and I have to explain how amazing is the world of institutional communication?!!!

But at the end, we did connect very well during the day and these are the lessons I have taken from Petru. Of course, some of the things I knew well.
Sometimes you just need a 17-year old to remind you about stuff that really matter.

1. It’s OK to be confused

confused

Petru told me at some point in a very easy-going way: “I am confused, I don’t really know what direction to take It will come, I am sure, but I am also sure my choice will not define my life forever“.
Maybe totally amazing is not what he said, but how he said it, totally aware and unworried.

Us, the hard-working professionals with bright career and big payslips cannot afford to be confused about our professional choices. Well, actually if we are confused, we don’t afford to show it. We deny it, hide it from ourselves (and from the others) under layers of fake happiness and amazing social networking evenings. We got credits to pay, houses with big gardens to maintain, children to school, who has time to wonder if it still makes sense how do we spend at least 1/3 of our life – in our job.

When I heard Petru speaking about his confusion, I realised it is OK (maybe even useful) career-wise to don’t always know what you want. When I quit being a journalist, I did not know what is next.  His confusions reasoned with me perfectly, not because I don’t like my communication career or my European pubic servant role, but because sometimes I wonder….  what if…

2. Losing sometimes the interest is something natural

bored

Another thing that Petru told me and reminded me of my own professional behaviour was that he easily gets bored of one thing and drops it, moving to another.

“I don’t really know how, but this is what happens rather often. I start something and then few months later it doesn’t interests me anymore and I move to something else”.

Mhm, that sounds familiar… Oh wait, that’s exactly how I am! I am currently at blog number 3 (the previous two died together with my motivation for writing), I am picking up and dropping off social media accounts here and there. I sometimes start reading books and never finish them (yes, I know, sounds awful). I have one hobby today and another 2 weeks later.

So, again, hearing Petru having the same “symptoms” at only 17 reassured me that I am not just a bored and unmotivated person, I am just following the normal curve of learning, learning about my career, about myself….

3. Start young!

2016-09-29-start

Petru was lucky to have parents who involved him in all kind of activities since he was a child. And the results are visible. When I was 17, I was barely speaking English, no access to extra-curricula activities, no real models to follow, I felt lost. So, what did Petru teach me?! That I should have started sooner, that we all should start sooner getting involved in our community, doing things, volunteering, studying something more than what the teachers asks us to. Nurture our curiosity, never running out of questions….

4. Circumstances don’t build careers, you do!

2016-09-29-work-harder

At the end of the day Petru congratulated me: “I am impressed with what you are doing. I hope one day I will work at this level”. I assured him that he can do so much better than me.

After Petru left the building, I went back in the office and sat for 5 minutes looking around. I am just over 30 and I pretty much over-reached my goals career-wise (let’s not speak about other aspects of my life 🙂 ).

So why, when I am congratulated for my achievements I keep on answering: Well, no, not really, it was a coincidence that I came to Brussels. And then another coincidence for passing  “an exam“. And then yet another coincidence that I was selected to work in the department I am right now….

Truth be told, I worked my ass off for years and I still do it. I might not the smartest person, but I am conscious and resilient and I pay attention to my development.

So no, it is not a coincidence what you achieve. Be proud of it, enjoy where you are and always strive to improve.

5. Sharing is caring

Startup Stock Photos

We all know this! But we either tend to forget or intentionally keep things for ourselves. Sharing information, tips, advices, life lessons is something that we do too little.

Of course, we don’t know everything, but what we did learn until now (whether we are 17 or 30-something) can be always useful for others as well. Giving something back to the younger generations, to the community you come from, even to strangers, brings a sense of happiness. And of hope: hope that when you will need something (knowledge or a job or anything else), a stranger or a person that you barely know will come your way to help.

All in all

My next days and weeks in the office got much better. It seems that fate always has its ways with me. Every time I am in a difficult moment, it brings forward a person, a situation, a destination that changes my perspective. This time was Petru. Thank you for this!

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