[NOTE: I had planned on starting 2020 with a post featuring my usual brand of pop culture and sarcasm, but then life intervened, so we’re instead going to start with something a bit more serious. I promise we’ll be back to my usual snark and humor next week. 🙂 ]
Two weeks ago, I received a text from a member of my Type A tribe informing me that her mentor had tragically and unexpectedly passed away. As we texted back and forth, she shared her feelings of sadness regarding the events leading to her mentor’s passing, and her level of bewilderment at how visceral and insurmountable this loss felt. Her final text to me at the end of our conversation ended with the following: “I’m resilient and I bounce back from things quickly but this one’s really freaking tough.”
Here’s the thing: Most of the time, we Type As are people who others depend on to keep it together when something tragic happens. We’re dependable, and we’re better than most at compartmentalizing our personal and professional lives. If we need to keep our chin up and get a task done, we can do so while privately mourning our losses with friends, family, or other loved ones. We tend to pride ourselves on our resiliency in times of crisis, loss, or tragedy.
And then we lose our first significant professional mentor, and our world turns upside down. The confusion, bewilderment, and profound sadness that accompanies a mentor’s passing is unique, very surprising, and seemingly insurmountable. And when you are used to being the person who can keep it together and compartmentalize your personal and professional lives, it is an extremely uncomfortable place to be.
One of my most significant mentors passed away unexpectedly about 3 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Upon receiving the phone call that morning, I immediately sat down and launched into the dreaded “ugly cry” that is typically reserved for (1) people who are surprisingly reunited with missing family members by Oprah, and (2) that member of any Real Housewives cast who all of the other women inevitably gang up on during that season’s ill-fated girl’s trip.
When the initial wave of emotion passed, confusion set in. Yes, it was a huge loss, but I had experienced losses of friends and other coworkers. While those losses saddened me, they did not produce the reaction that my mentor’s passing had produced. And those people were people who I knew longer, spent more time with, and felt a more personal bond with.
So…what the hell was happening?
After spending some time analyzing the situation (because it provided somewhat of a respite from crying and blowing my nose), I came to the realization that the sudden loss of my mentor made me feel more than just sad. While I have two amazing parents who are very much alive and who I love dearly, for some reason I felt strangely orphaned. And, similar to the feelings those I know who have lost a parent have shared with me, I was worried that maybe I could not become successful without my mentor being available if or when I needed him.
So why am I sharing all of this (especially since anyone who knows me personally knows I am not a “sharer”)? Because I want my friend, and anyone currently struggling with the loss of a mentor, to know that they are not alone in feeling that loss so profoundly. And that their inability to bounce back from this loss as quickly as other losses says nothing about their general ability to be resilient. Rather, it emphasizes the formative role their mentor played in their development.
Many times, a mentor chooses you as their mentee because they see talent in you that others (including you) do not yet see. They support you, they believe in you, and they have an unshakable belief that you will be successful even when you cannot even see the path you need to take in order to reach your goals. They’re one of the first people you call to share your successes. They’re also one of the first people you call when you feel like you’re frustrated, off-track, and just want to say “screw it – I’m running off to join the circus!”
So when that person suddenly evaporates from your life, of course you are going to feel adrift. Although they seemed to see the path your career would take, you may not yet see it, or have the confidence in your vision and intuition to believe that your chosen path is “the right one.” You may also feel that they left you before teaching you everything you needed to know in order to be successful.
And while all of those thoughts are valid, and the hole left by the loss of a mentor will be quite profound in the short-term, it is important to remember why your mentor selected you in the first place. They saw certain talents and abilities within you that they knew would lead to your success. Those talents and abilities were there before your mentor found you, and will continue to be available to you following your mentor’s passing. As you move forward, do so with the knowledge that you still have what you need to succeed, and be grateful for the part their mentorship played (and will continue to play) in your journey.
And the first few times something great happens and you start writing them a text or e-mail to let them know, you may be hit by a new wave of sadness as you are confronted with the reality that they aren’t physically there to read it. When that wave of sadness hits you, remind yourself that they already knew great things were headed your way. In fact, they knew it far before you did.