As a kid, I didn’t appreciate the people who tried to help me. I was sure they were just interfering adults. Looking back from this happier place 2013, I reflect on the opportunities I was too paralyzed with uncertainty and insecurity to accept.
Belatedly, i acknowledge and thank those whose offers would’ve made me a better person. For example, the Vice-Principal at Melville Scott Elementary, who encouraged me to enter a writing contest in grade 3. I didn’t have the self-esteem and spent the rest of the year avoiding him because I’d disappointed him. I could have been wrting my whole life if I’d accepted his offer. Instead, I’m galloping now to catch up. Both the track coach in grade 6 and the captain of the swim team in grade 10 tried to persuade me i was athletic enough to compete. I refused because I didn’t believe either of them. When I finally ran marathon distances in my 30s it felt fantastic. More missed time. A friend’s mom tried to convince me I’d be happier in grade 12 if I smiled more. I took it as a criticism and scowled for a week. I’m always smiling now and missed years of potential happiness.
The list of people who offered is long. I wish I recalled their names, so I could thank them. The list of offers I accepted is considerably shorter. I was so misguided to refuse.
However, I can accept the offers I get now. After almost 2 years on disability my role’s changed from recovering cancer patient to full time paid worker. My dream job and I grew apart somewhat while we were separated. So much changed. My teammates are now my mentors, retraining me for my job.
As a conflict manager, I’m okay with that ambiguity. After all, the answer to most questions about conflict is ‘It depends’. Wow. Sounds like understanding cancer.
As my wonderful and brilliant oncologist Danny truthfully said: “The answer to most questions about Triple Negative Breast Cancer is ‘I dunno’.” Wow. Sounds like me back at work. Even experts don’t have all the answers. I had so many mentors on my path to healing and I’m so grateful to them all. Because I sure didn’t have any answers.
Returning to work was a similar feeling to the vulnerable and confused uncertainty of starting treatment. I crave a guide. I’m confounded about the ‘correct’ foods to eat or not eat, activities to do or not do. Eventually, the turbulence in my job and health will settle down, routines normalize, and uncertainties give way to competence. I’ll adapt.
In his book Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty, Robert Kanigel describes a mentorship chain that can account for the success of generations of people who encourage, generate and pass around knowledge.
When I look for ways to keep at bay the fear lurking in the unanswerable, I come up with gratitude about the twin blessings of wonderful mentors and of their prodding me to be more curious, more open, and more willing to accept help.
Now that I’m back managing conflict again, I remember that a mentor is as valuable to me as a great answer. My mentors are my guides, lighting my way.