Spelling Out M-E-N-T-O-R

July 21, 2010 , bigstwincities

By Kristin Holtz, Shakopee

I’ve been a big sister most of my life. Since I was 2 years, 11 months, I’ve been the one with all the answers, making up rules to homemade games and expecting my younger siblings to follow in line. Bossy, yes, but definitely more knowledgeable about these things considering I was born first.

Today, I still like to be the boss, though I prefer names like advisor and counselor. I’ve learned a little more tact in delivering unsolicited advice and discovered that life experience is a much better base to draw on than birthright.

Maybe that’s one reason I became a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I saw myself as a potential guide on this crazy road of life – someone with answers to the myriad of questions we all face growing up. As a mentor, I thought I could help guide my Little Sister safely and securely down her life’s road.

But it’s also not my job to mark her path for her.

It’s funny how this hit me as we were playing Scrabble the other night. She was looking for her final word; she needed 24 points to come from behind and secure victory. She scratched her head not knowing what to do. And I sat there silent. It was her game to win or lose.

As a mentor for my Little, it’s not my job to tell her how to spell “jive.” It’s my job to let her know the option is out there for her, and if she asks, I’ll hand her the dictionary. Being a mentor isn’t about having all the answers to all her questions – and my Little is definitely inquisitive – it’s about showing her where to look to find her own answers.

My job as a Big Sister is less about dictating the game and more about being a role model she can follow, demonstrating traits I hope she finds useful in her own life: creativity, gratitude, humility and a willingness to try.

This might seem like a commonsense definition of mentorship, but to me, the bossy older sister, it’s an important reminder that sometimes the best advice I can offer is advice modeled not told.

She’s only 11 years old and she has plenty of years to be bossed around in the working world. For now, I just need to hand her the dictionary so she can whip out words like “paws” and beat me at Scrabble.