From a post on mentoring:
As a first-time father of a seven week old little girl I found your analogy helpful in a way I might not have two months ago. The lesson I am currently learning with my daughter, especially in these early stages, is that the first challenge in a mentoring relationship is learning how to communicate. Right now, she doesn’t know how to tell me what she needs so it’s up to me to observe her closely to learn what she might be saying unconsciously (rubbing her eyes means she’s tired, kicking her legs means check the diaper, etc.). As she gets older she will gain a wide array of communication tools that she can use to clearly let me know what she wants, the challenge will then be to get her to use them.
When we first begin mentoring someone in a professional context, especially someone who is new to the company or the position, they may not know what they need from us as a mentor. They may have no way telling us how we can help them to improve or grow because they aren’t familiar with us or with their environment. In this stage it is up to us to know the environment and what skills and attitudes are needed for successful growth. As the relationship develops and they are able to more clearly ask for specific help, the next challenge to ensure that they feel comfortable asking for that help. Maintaining an open attitude towards the people we mentor is vital to creating a sense of safety and well-being in them that will allow them to make full use of us as a resource.
Lastly, I would like to add another perspective to the subject of impacting the lives of others. While it is clear that deep investment over time is an extremely effective way of influencing others, it is also possible to impact people deeply with just one meeting. The analogy I like to use is geology. For centuries it was accepted by geologists that the physical landscape was primarily the result of eons of slow shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. However, that perspective has changed in the past 20 years or so as we have gained a greater understanding about the effect of meteor strikes on the surface of the earth. Entire valleys in central Europe contain mineral deposits that are evidence of a massive meteor strike millenia ago. Siberia, Arizona and the ocean floors also show evidence of large meteor impacts that have had a makor influence on the earth’s landscape. Modern geologists accept that the shape of the earth is due to a blend of long, slow internal change mixed with sudden upheaval from external impacts.
Is there a speech, a seminar or a passage from a book that you still think about regularly even though you’ve never seen that person again? Perhaps you’ve had a fleeting introduction to someone you greatly admire and while they only said a couple of sentences to you, those words have stuck with you and inspired you for years? I know that I have.
The application is this: sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to invest in a long term mentoring relationship. In those cases it is up to us to always give our full attention and energy to the people we with whom we make contact. You never know the sudden impact you might have that could inspire them for the rest of their lives.