In Greek mythology Mentor was a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus departed for the Trojan war, he left his son Telemachus and his palace in the safe hands of Mentor and Eumaeus. Athena disguised herself as Mentor to visit Telemachus, the goddess then encouraged and advised Telemachus to go abroad and find his father.
The Oxford English dictionary (accessed May 4th 2020) defines the noun mentor as ‘an experienced and trusted adviser.’ I have been reflecting recently, on the wisdom I have gained, from the mentors who I have found over the years. Many I have met and have chosen. Some have been suggested to me at various stages in my life. Others I have never met IRL (in real life) but whose wisdom I listen to and pass on. Sadly, the majority I will never meet, as their knowledge and sage advice is from a different time.
I have always been interested as a paediatrician, a daughter and a mother as to the question of age and mentoring. I truly believe some of the best advice and wisdom I have received has come from those younger than me but more experienced. For example in setting up my home office recently my three teenagers have been my on call IT support crew. When I dabble on twitter my younger colleagues have taught me: what a # (hashtag) is, how to mute notifications, how to respond to and when to block unkind comments and how to enlarge the font so I can see without my reading glasses.
Some of the best advice has come from some of my patients and their families. As a paediatrician with an interest in neurodisability, I have the privilege of getting to know some children and their families for a long time. During transition to adult services, many grow out of paediatric services and it is humbling to be a small part of the conversations enabling the start of their adult life.
The RCPCH (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) leads the way in this too (I believe). As a college who represents the future of paediatrics and child health, alongside the daily challenges it has been innovative in its approach. The RCPCH 2040 project(1) aims to ‘move from being reactive or having a short-term future outlook to having a long term vision’ (Russell Viner, RCPCH President). Each work stream has members at all stages of their career. The RCPCH and us is ‘the voice of children, young people and families’ celebrated its fifth year last month (2).
Our mentors also need to be broad. As an advocate of equality, inclusion and diversity I am aware that as a white, British woman I have my own biases both conscious and unconscious. Again, by seeking mentors from a diverse community, I hope it has enabled me to have conversations that have helped and guided. I also try to recognise that when I get things wrong, I need to apologise for my behaviour and this can be hard! Some recent training on microagressions, in our trust locally, has helped me recognise that civility can be how something is heard, not how it was intended. Again by being open in conversations means we can discuss and resolve differences rather than be hurt in silence. If we don’t explore these conversations then we may continue to communicate poorly about the issues that often matter very much.
Some may appreciate the date to today’s blog. I haven’t watched all the movies but I do often quote from the characters in teaching. Yoda has helped me when ‘in a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way’. At times we are all like Luke ‘I can’t believe it’….’that is why you fail’ Yoda. C3PO is ‘fluent in over 6 million forms of communication’. Princess Leia has ‘hope is not lost today. It is found’. But I thought I would let Hans Solo have the final say ‘women always figure out the truth. Always.’
As I write this, in the UK and globally we are facing a challenging time now, while preparing for a very uncertain future. Finding mentors to help guide and advise us on the path to take is important. Alongside my real life mentors, friends and family, personally I have found much solace in creative arts, poetry and literature. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is the start of the famous opening line from A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) and it feels very apt for now too. But to close, I thought I would hand over to Maya Angelou - ‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.’ I hope you, like me, may find a mentor or two to help guide you through these uncertain times.
Anna Baverstock (@anna_annabav) is a paediatrican at Musgrove Park Hospital and part of the Colleague Wellbeing Team @SomersetFT. As lead for Junior and Senior Doctor Wellbeing she is interested in looking at changes at organisation, team and individual level to enable wellbeing at work and home.