I've long believed in the power of mentoring. I remember mentors who helped me as I advanced in my career, some of whom were my bosses. I think back to when I ran a direct marketing agency and decided to bring on a partner with more experience than me. He, too, became a key mentor in my professional development.
When I retired from marketing, I wanted to mentor others in the same way. For ten years, I was a volunteer marketing counselor to small business owners, mostly one-person operations, through a local college's small business center. While I had expertise in marketing, I had to keep up with current marketing practices, so mentoring forced me to stay on top of things and continue to learn. This is a part of mentoring that some people overlook -- mentoring can be as much a learning experience as a teaching experience. For me, mentoring was extremely gratifying, especially when I received the occasional thank you note from a person I helped. I got pretty pumped up when I saw how some local entrepreneurs were applying my advice to grow their businesses.
I have a feeling there is huge mentoring potential in retired and soon-to-be retired Boomers, and so does Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore.org. In his new book, How to Live Forever, Freedman discusses the value of an older generation mentoring younger generations. In an interview with Jane Brody of The New York Times, Freedman said, “Older people are uniquely suited for a mentoring role. The critical skills for nurturing relationships — emotional regulation and empathy — blossom as we age.”
As for what it takes to be a mentor, Freedman commented that any Boomer could be good at it by following a few basic ground rules. “You don’t have to be a charismatic superhero," Freedman said. "You don’t need an advanced degree. It’s more about the relationship than imparting sage advice. The key is not being interesting. The real key is being interested — being present and paying attention.”
For Boomers who have special expertise in a particular discipline, as I did, mentoring through a small business center or through SCORE, the nation's largest network of business counselors, is the way to go. But there are many other types of mentoring opportunities that don't require a professional background, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of the country's largest youth mentoring organizations.
It turns out that mentoring, like volunteering, really does improve your quality of life in your later years. In her article, Brody cites research from a four-decade study that suggests "middle-aged and older people who invested in the well-being of the next generation were three times as likely to be happy as those who didn’t make such an effort. They also lived longer."
Mentoring worked for me, and it seems to work for many other Boomers. Maybe it can work for you.