Meaning. Purpose. Challenge. It's obvious that happiness in retirement depends on a lot more than doing crosswords on the beach all day long. You might focus on building good habits, or on launching your new business. Or you might just decide to give back by becoming a mentor.
Mentoring can be a fulfilling way for retirees to repurpose their professional skills, give back, and stay active. But there's more to building an effective mentoring relationship than just making yourself available for a chat. These four tips will help both you and your mentee get the most out of your time together.
1. Set a schedule.
Treat mentorship like a professional responsibility. Decide how many hours per week you are going to spend together. Are these meetings going to be virtual? In-person? A combination of the two? Establishing these guidelines and putting your meetings on your calendar will add a little structure to your retirement schedule and ensure that both you and your mentee will respect each other's time.
Also, consider setting an end date for this mentorship: a semester, a quarter, a month. If, at the end of this time, both participants wish to continue, set a new schedule. On the other hand, if the relationship has run its course, it will be much easier to part amicably and without awkwardness.
2. Set expectations.
What is the specific purpose of this mentorship? Does a grad student in your field need some help with her thesis? Are you going to train a young professional or coach up some of his skills? Are you going to help someone looking for a career change gain new skills or brush up their resume?
What kind of boundaries do you want to establish? Are you willing to open up your professional network to your mentee? Can he or she contact you outside of your scheduled meetings by phone, text, or email? Use you as a reference on a resume or as a source in a research paper?
Also, what tasks do you expect your mentee to perform outside of your time together so that this mentorship continues to progress towards its goal? How will you hold your mentee accountable for that progress? What benchmarks can you set? What daily, weekly, or monthly goals should your mentee be hitting?
Your time and experience are both extremely valuable. Be clear about what you expect your mentee to do and what you are willing to do in return.
3. Ask personal and professional questions.
At the beginning of the relationship, your mentee might feel nervous or intimidated. Or he or she might approach your initial meetings like they're attending a class where you'll be dispensing wisdom.
It's up to the mentor to balance out the relationship and break the ice. Perhaps your first meeting should be more of a getting-to-know-you chat where you don't really talk shop. Ask about family, hobbies, the reasons they chose their field, favorite sports teams, books, movies. Making a personal connection will help your mentee open up more and participate actively once it is time to get down to business. True two-way communication will also give you an opportunity to learn from the next generation, gain new perspectives, and perhaps discover some new interests you might want to pursue on your own time.
4. Stay positive.
When you were a young professional, you probably had positive and negative interactions with seasoned pros whom you looked up to. Try to emulate the conversations and experiences that inspired and motivated you. When criticism is necessary, maintain a constructive tone. After all, your mentee wouldn’t have approached you in the first place if he didn’t recognize that he needed guidance. Spend less time pointing out flaws than you do helping your mentee identify potential solutions and paths for growth.
Put your most valuable skills into action and add a rewarding new dimension to your retirement! If you're not sure how to find someone to mentor, here are a couple of resources to start you off:
Santa Cruz Volunteer Now can help you find all kinds of volunteering opportunities close to you.
Big Brother Big Sister of Santa Cruz County will match you up with a young person.
And thank you so much for volunteering - your experience is so valuable, and it's great to see so many of our clients giving back in different ways to our community!
For couples who are already starting to think about retirement, this is a good overview of how to discuss and manage the challenges you will face when retiring. Don't go into retirement without a plan!