I recently gave a presentation to a group of students on burnout and how to care for yourself when working in the health professions. One student asked me a question that I have not been able to shake. (This is one of my favorite things about working with students. They are willing to ask tough questions and expect good answers.) Her question at once filled my heart with sorrow and immense gratitude.
I had been sharing some practical tips on how to take care of ourselves. We had discussed the importance of rest, nutrition, and exercise. I began to discuss the importance of having people that you can depend on and who can mentor you. A student raised her hand and politely asked “What do you do if you don’t have people like that in your life.” She wasn’t being dramatic. She wasn’t asking a rhetorical question. She was lost and was seeking answers. She genuinely wanted to know where to start the process. My heart broke. I clumsily staggered along trying to say something that would be meaningful but my ideas felt hollow.
How have we become so disconnected as a society that young people must actively look for mentors? I don’t know the details of her story. I don’t know what resources she has access to or whether she is making the most of her opportunities. What I do know is that she feels like she doesn’t have anyone she can trust and that hurts.
As I have reflected on her question I have also been filled with gratitude for the countless people who have mentored me through some very difficult seasons of life. They have been professionals, teachers, coaches, pastors, family and friends. Perhaps they don’t realize how much they have meant to me. Perhaps I don’t either. One thing is certain, I never had to look far to find someone who was willing to listen and offer encouragement.
So what does this all mean? What do we do with it? The answer is not another program. The answer is not another agency. The answer is more agency, as people, as individuals. We need more people who are willing to take steps necessary to be there for those who are hurting, and lonely. I am speaking to myself as much as to you dear reader. Very few young people have the knowledge or courage to go ask for help, which is why it is imperative that adults take steps to be available and present. Here are some ways to get started.
I need mentors and you do too. Sometimes I forget that I need to be a mentor as well. The need for one another is central to the human experience. This need for connection and encouragement will never go away. What I hope does go away is the question about where it can be found.