A mentor is a kind of coach, a personal trainer, so to speak, for one’s career where the sport is not an athletic endeavor but an intellectual or technical endeavor like surgical research or operating on the aorta. A mentor empowers, encourages, and nurtures self-confidence for someone to grow their career, master a skill, negotiate the challenges of institutional politics, and become a leader in their own right while balancing the constant tug of war between work and life that busy, ambitious young professionals in any field face.
So why am I writing about mentorship in my blog dedicated to life outside of work? Well, because sometimes work and life come together harmoniously. Given how complex the work-life balance equation typically is, I feel compelled to share this story of mentorship on the move.
Running is hard for me. When I do it, I love it and feel really good. But I am pretty slow (and I am okay with that–I run to get to the finish and not to win any speed awards) so being committed to running takes a lot of time and have not figured out how to make daily running (or nearly daily running) as part of my daily regimen. But I do the best that I can. I am sure that a running coach would bring out the best possible runner locked up deep inside me.
At a recent professional meeting, I was fortunate enough to go for a run with a fantastic senior surgeon (we say this for Professors of Surgery; they aren’t necessarily old and this woman is NOT old–just needed to clarify). She could be a semi-elite runner if she weren’t a surgeon. She has a runner’s build and is super speedy. But it turns out that she’s also a great running coach. She can temper her 5-6min/mi pace down to as slow as 12min/mi pace on demand. Perhaps this is because she is a seasoned educator who has often had to achieve a single educational goal among those with vastly different abilities or perhaps it is her own inherent athletic ability that allows her to adjust so well to the needs of her pupil, in this case the slow runner. I heard this from a traumamama friend of mine who was marshaled through her first race with this amazing surgeon-coach.
Last fall, the three of us hit the streets of San Francisco together during a break from a professional meeting, and over 4.5mi at a 11:19 pace we discussed a lot of things related to our work as surgeons. During that run I benefited not only from the cardiovascular activity but also from wise counsel on topics ranging from how to approach my hospital administration about challenging safety issues or how to approach my then pending grant revision or when is the right time to consider a career move. Turns out it was a great on-the-move mentorship session and this senior surgeon is actually an amazing surgeon-coach-mentor.
Last week, I had this surgeon-coach-mentor all to myself. We don’t regularly keep in touch (though I am sure she would be available if I reached out to her more frequently). But, there we were, in the same city for yet another work-related meeting, and the sun was out. I asked if she would be willing to go for a run with me and she graciously agreed.
It was 4mi over 44 minutes of one on one counsel regarding how to best make the most of my new position in this national organization that had brought the two of us together again in the same city. She has more than a decade of insight into the opportunities and challenges of being an affective and effective member of the group. This is the kind of mentorship that is typically elusive to those navigating professional organizations. But there I was, lucky enough to get her undivided attention for nearly an hour on this topic important to my career AND get a great run in. Of course she was fully conversational the whole time while I was panting, but hey I will never improve my running endurance or become a daily runner if I don’t get out there an put one foot in front of the other as often as I can.
Putting that one foot in front of the other with such a great role model and thoughtful advisor is such a gift professionally and personally. We are once again traveling to the same city and I am hopeful we will be able to run together again before we depart. I feel lucky to have found a mentor who empowers, encourages, and nurtures self-confidence in me while we are on the move.