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Give back, get back: Being a mentor in retirement

Retirement can be a difficult transition.  We go from work where we used years of experience, wisdom, and our creativity in solving problems and making a difference to suddenly not always feeling that we are actively using our experience and skills.

There are a variety of ways to stay engaged in retirement, and mentoring is one of my favorites. 

Mentoring can be a fulfilling way for retirees to make the most of their professional or non-professional skills, give back, and stay active. Mentoring activities can range from helping youth do homework to helping junior executives run their businesses to many other possibilities.   

Tips for Being a Mentor in Retirement

Here are four tips that can help both mentor and mentee get the most out of the relationship (as a mentor, you may also receive specific guidelines from the mentoring organization).

1. Tie to Your Values and Skills
One of the wonderful things about retirement is that you have the opportunity to participate in activities that tie to your values and passions. Choosing your volunteer activities—including being a mentor—should not be any different. What are the causes that are important to you?  What kind of people do you want to engage with and help?  Bringing passion to a mentoring relationship will undoubtedly allow you to make an even bigger impact on the mentee.

Similarly, you should ask yourself what special skills or knowledge you may be able to pass down to others. Successful communities find ways to pass knowledge from one generation to the next, and your insight and wisdom can be invaluable. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to know everything or that you cannot learn new skills or knowledge to use in such a relationship. Sometimes, being a successful mentor can consist of just being there with words of encouragement. 

2. Set Expectations
If your mentoring organization has rules and expectations, you will obviously want to make sure you can meet those expectations. Share those expectations with the mentee, when appropriate. If you are not in a formal organization, setting expectations with the mentee is critical for both of you to get the most out of the experience.

Setting the schedule is important and may include stating when and where will you meet. Who will be responsible for scheduling?  How long do both of you expect the relationship to last?  Setting a timeframe will allow both of you to be more focused while providing a clear end date (if needed).

Of course, you will want to establish the purpose of the mentorship. What are the goals at the end of the day? What is the mentee looking to learn or accomplish?

You will also want to understand the boundaries of communication and whether any work will be put in between the meetings.  Is the mentee going to have benchmarks to meet, and how will those be tracked? Without such expectations, either or both of the parties may get frustrated, and the potential benefits of the mentor relationship may not be fully realized.

3. Develop a Personal Relationship
Whether you are mentoring a youth or someone in mid-career, trust is important.  As a mentor, you should be willing to break the ice and open up about your family, career, and hobbies. Try to find a connection while also celebrating differences.

You will want take notes (mentally, if not written) so that you can recall some of these personal items later. The more mentees believe that you are personally concerned about them, the more they will put into the mentee relationship and be attentive to your feedback.

4. Be Honest, Encouraging, and Thought-provoking
You will want to find the delicate balance between providing constructive feedback and providing encouragement. In many mentor relationships, you may not necessarily want to provide conclusive statements or answers to all the questions. A large part of learning in any environment is learning how to think. Having a dialogue with mentees as they find the solution will not only help them improve their critical thinking skills, but it will also elevate their confidence for problem solving.

Where to Find Opportunities to Become a Mentor

  • Your existing community, formal and informal:  church, school (elementary to high school), neighbors, family
  • Previous workplaces (whether through that employer or former co-workers)
  • Industry associations
  • Formal youth organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc
  • Your alma mater
  • https://www.mentoring.org/
  • https://americorps.gov/serve/americorps-seniors

The possibilities are endless.  What is available in your area? Where do you most want to make an impact? 

Source: Steve Martin, CFP®, CPA, JD
Nashville, TN