Thriving Together Series: How a Mentoring Relationship Can Strengthen Your Well-Being

Thriving Together mentoring

By: Anna Siegle (a Mason student majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies) and Melissa Schreibstein, M.S., ACC (Director of Well-Being Programs, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being)

Anna and Melissa are mentee/mentor in the Elena’s Scholarships for Student Well-Being program. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Anna and Melissa met regularly for well-being mentorship as a part of Anna’s scholarship award. This article presents insights into their mentorship relationship and the ways in which they both grew through the experience. As you read about Anna and Melissa’s mentoring relationship, consider how you may want to participate in a mentoring relationship in your own life.

 “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” — Whoopi Goldberg

 A mentoring relationship can benefit both people involved. Mentors volunteer to guide mentees, but mentoring opens up valuable opportunities for both people to grow. If both participants share their experiences with a mutual goal of learning, they can strengthen their well-being along the way. Here’s a look at how that happened for us. 

How We Approached the Mentorship Experience

Anna: When I applied for the Elena’s Scholarship for Student Well-Being last year, I had just started going to therapy for the first time. The realm of practicing well-being was a foreign concept to me, so when I saw this scholarship, I thought “Why not?” Being a novice in well-being, I was intrigued by the idea of having a mentor. I quickly realized that this mentorship occurred right when I needed it. In fact, this experience helped me recognize that I had previously been neglecting my well-being.

Melissa: The Elena scholarship mentorship is special because its intention is to help students adopt good well-being habits at a time when they are primed to learn and integrate new knowledge, and when they are facing many stressors and challenges. When I embarked on a well-being mentorship with Anna early in the fall semester of 2021, I didn’t want the experience to be traditional mentorship. In traditional mentorship, the more experienced mentor gives advice and guidance to help the mentee manage professional challenges. I approached mentorship from the perspective of an executive coach. Instead of centering my expertise and entering into the experience with a prepared structure, I believed that it was most important for Anna and I to establish a trusting relationship. Establishing a strong relationship meant that the mentorship experience would provide Anna with the type of support that she needed in order to better understand herself and identify small steps to strengthen her well-being that could sustain her for the long term.

What Our Mentorship Meetings Were Like

Anna: Meeting with Melissa always brightened up my day. I continually looked forward to meeting with her and our discussions. More often than not, we just had a conversation and let the conversation take its course. At each meeting, there was little to no plan or schedule in place. Ordinarily, being the meticulous person that I am, this would have given me anxiety. However, not having a plan and Melissa allowing for casual conversation is part of what has made this mentorship so impactful. Knowing that Melissa was not expecting anything from me other than showing up and being present was relieving. Having these conversations allowed me to talk about what was going on in my life, including discussing what I had been struggling with at that time. Melissa always made me feel heard and strategically asked questions that prompted self-reflection and contemplation. She also continually gave tangible tasks or easy ways to practice well-being that were feasible to complete during my busy days. Those little things truly made the most impact.

Melissa: During our mentorship meetings, it was most important to me to provide caring listening and a confidential space for Anna to share both her successes and challenges. I didn’t assign goals or have a plan for the conversation going into our sessions, preferring instead to hold a space for Anna to share what was going on for her. Because this was a mentorship centered on Anna’s well-being, we had the luxury to talk about our lives holistically without solely focusing on academics or work. In most of our sessions, I asked Anna to evaluate her well-being on a scale of 1 to 10. This simple question allowed Anna to gain self-awareness, to broaden her perspective, and to identify opportunities to make small shifts in her habits and her mindset. Although there were occasions that I offered guidance and made observations about patterns in her behavior that might be impacting well-being, generally I relied on inquiry (rather than on giving advice) to help Anna discover more about her own well-being. After just one or two meetings, it became clear that Anna didn’t need additional tasks that would serve to put more work on her plate. Therefore, when I offered well-being strategies, they were integrated into her regularly scheduled activities. We explored Anna’s strengths through the CliftonStrengths assessment. Then we discussed how her strengths show up in her classes and co-curricular activities, to reinforce her unique profile of talents, not to add to her to-do list. Another important topic of conversation was self-compassion.

What We Learned from Our Mentorship Experience

Anna: Throughout my time with Melissa, I learned much more than I expected. I sincerely learned how to love myself more this year. Well-being is not a linear journey, and there is still room for growth. Our mentoring relationship helped facilitate this journey. A large part of this struggle was my anxiety. I voiced my concerns to Melissa, and she provided mindfulness practices that would help, even a practice as simple as being present as I walk to class. Additionally, she offered helpful suggestions of ways to help with my feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the responsibilities I am balancing. These suggestions include being aware of key clues that indicate I am being stretched too thin and how to mitigate that, as well as having reminders (such as a picture or a saying) that help me remember why I am doing what I am.

Melissa: Anna and I forged a genuine connection through our mentorship meetings. Learning about her experiences, her values, her interests, and the way she’s managing daily adversities was inspiring for me. Tracking Anna’s well-being at each meeting helped me to reflect on my own. I have to admit that I saw slivers of myself in Anna’s habits. Noticing this prompted me to explore my own experiences of anxiety with a new therapist. Witnessing Anna’s effort and her growth helped me to feel more anchored to my work and my purpose. Well-being truly is a journey. I feel grateful to be reminded of this fact during my mentorship experience with Anna.

Additional Resources

  • The application period for the 2022-2023 Elena’s Student Scholarship is open until May 20, 2022. Winners will be notified by July 1, 2022. Apply via Mason 360 by logging in first, and then accessing the application form through this link: https://cglink.me/2d7/s67959
  • This Harvard Business Review article explores how the best mentorships help both people grow.
  • This BetterUp.com blog offers 4 ways to be a mentor to someone.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!