The importance of mentors was on full display when I recently attended the unveiling of a new exhibit that featured me and seven other women in aviation at Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Maryland.
One of the other women in attendance, Colleen Nevius, the first woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, once served as my mentor. A woman whom I mentored also was there. For me, the moment served as a reminder about the importance of mentors.
Now, with January marking National Mentoring Month, I hope others – especially girls and young women – will come to understand the same thing.
The right mentor at the right time can help you produce remarkable results.
This certainly proved true for me. When I was in the Navy’s flight school, I was assigned a mentor who didn’t appear to be someone who would instantly be in my corner.
He was an older, somewhat crusty lieutenant who started his career as a sailor before becoming an officer.
Even though I hadn’t yet finished flight school, I told him that ultimately I wanted to go to Test Pilot School, so I needed to be a top performer.
Instead of shooting down my ambitions, the lieutenant declared he thought I was indeed capable of graduating at the top of my flight class.
What followed could be set to the “Rocky” theme.
My mentor challenged me to study extra hours each night. He urged me to go back to base after hours and do extra trainers and simulators the night before each flight. He tasked me with knowing my navigation charts so well that I could fly my flights with my eyes closed. He checked my knowledge and pushed me ever further.
With the lieutenant urging me along, I did graduate at the top of my class. But mentors can do more than motivate. They also can:
A mentor has had experiences you haven’t, Bell says, so it’s incumbent on you to soak up as much of their wisdom as you can. That mentor likely overcame obstacles and made mistakes on the way to achieving success, and you can learn from what they did right and what they did wrong.
Mentors can introduce you to people who can provide jobs, knowledge or serve as additional mentors. Ultimately, though, the heavy lifting is still up to you. Mentors will open doors for you, but through those doors only you can walk.
Make you accountable.
Plans and dreams can quickly get derailed if you let them. It is all too easy to let “life” get in the way. We tell ourselves we will do ‘it’ later, never to pick ‘it’ up again. This is why an accountability partner or mentor is crucial. They help us see when we are limiting ourselves and clipping our own wings.
Anyone can benefit from a mentor, whether that mentor is male or female. But it’s especially important for women and girls to find women who can serve as their mentors.
I encourage women to not only seek out women role models, but to also see themselves as a role model and mentor. A female colleague and I recently spoke about the fact that during our mostly male-dominated careers we had mentors, but few role models. ‘We are the role models now,’ she said to me, and she was right.
Girls and young women must be exposed to role models. They must be able to see themselves in the future college majors they select and in the careers that may follow. As so many people say, they need to ‘see it to be it.’
Barbara Bell, author of “Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence And Learning To Fly High“, was one of the first women to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Now she wants to empower the next generation of female leaders.