It turns out I am less indispensable than I think I am. It’s not self-deprecating; it’s a fun fact about my mentoring relationships.
In anticipation of a big family gathering this season, I sought the advice of my mentors to prepare for some relational challenges I saw coming. Their wisdom echoed loudly in my head and merits expansion.
I was reminded that the people who intimidate me are people who criticize when they feel insecure. I take that personally most of the time, and that’s a mistake. What they say is a reflection of themselves and how they feel, not me at all.
It’s one of those concepts I know backward and forward but when it comes to applying it, I freeze, forget or get angry and hurl it back or some other unhelpful response. The best response is to see what that critical comment says about what they fear or how they don’t feel affirmed, and then find a way to affirm or encourage them.
Because only hurt people hurt people. And I don’t need to add to that.
I was coached to look at the situation from the top down instead of in the trenches. What motivates the people I find so intimidating? How are they looking at this holiday and what do they want people to like about them?
This requires some humility — essentially, the sacrifice of my pride. This is not my strong suit, believe it or not. I like to be needed and have all the answers for those coming after me on this journey.
But my mentors are wise people. Both of them in their different ways reminded me of a concept as unique as it seems backward: believing that they have something to learn from the people they counsel. One blatantly told me that when she meets with someone new, she learns their background and finds that she can say genuinely to them, “I have so much to learn from you.”
The wisdom in this, I think, is that we do have something to learn from every other person we meet, whether they are younger or older, more experienced or less experienced, coming from a similar background or a very different one.
I’ve always gone in with the idea that I have something to offer, something to teach, something unique to share with the world. But the opposite is almost more true: I have something to take in, something to learn and every person has something unique to share with me.
How validating would that be to hear from someone you admire and look up to? When I heard it secondhand, I realized that through their actions and our conversations, both my mentors have shown me that they absolutely believe they have something to learn from me.
But what a level of maturity and humility that requires. I’m pretty floored thinking about it. And if I haven’t mentioned this before, let me reiterate that this is not how I’ve ever operated.
So as I mentally cower in a corner thinking back on all the moments I’ve not made the people around me feel important and like they have something wonderful to teach me, I am ashamed of myself for a minute. And then I pick myself back up and dust off my broken pride and set it on a shelf for a while so I can walk out into my community with a new (less disdainful) attitude toward those I seek to invest in.
Trying to wrap my brain around this concept feels a little stiff and unnatural and maybe even a little dishonest. Do I really believe that every person around me — even the teenagers steeped in pop culture that I don’t understand in the least — have something to teach me?
But at a deep level, I do see the truth in that. They absolutely DO. All people I meet have learned and walked this life differently than I have. What a wealth of human understanding!
Here I’ve been wading in my own puddle trying to tell the young people I mentor that I can teach them how to swim and go fishing in this puddle, and the reality is that I’m basically a tide pool that has forgotten there’s an ocean to dip into for real wisdom. I get stuck believing that my stagnant, lukewarm water is the good stuff, and I’m missing the bubbling springs these other people are.
So the new goal within this mentorship ministry I’m pursuing is to see what I can learn and how I can affirm them in order to enrich their lives with confidence and strength instead of just my own ideas about what is good and right. That will be loving them into a better place, even if I end up invisible so they can begin to shine.