Our mentors can make or break us. I’ve seen this first-hand while working as a professional in the IT industry for almost 6 years now. Apart from my own experiences, countless times I was a witness of my colleagues’ struggles at work because of unreasonable mentors. In contrast to this, I have also seen many who achieved exponential personal and career growth because they were blessed by mentors who nurtured them right. It is very rare to find mentors who will stick with you through thick and thin. Mentors who are passionate enough to bring you to the top of your game despite the long and tiring process. However, once you find one, you are definitely up for a journey full valuable lessons, a journey that you will always be grateful for.
In my journey to starting a new career in a foreign country, I did not expect to be blessed with a mentor who was willing to go through my struggles with me just so he can push me to the top of my game. Today, I will be sharing this journey with you. This story is my discovery of what real mentorship and leadership are all about. This is a story of heroes who are not wearing capes, but are still saving lives.
This story is for mentors and for those who are being mentored. May this resonates with you in whatever journey you are going through. Read ahead!
When Mentors choose to understand the Struggles of their Members
It was August 2018. I just arrived in Japan from the Philippines to start working full time as a Software Engineer. It was my frail attempt of starting a new life and a new professional career in a foreign country. I came to Japan alone, without a family or a friend living nearby. Was I scared, you may ask? Absolutely, and for countless reasons! First, I was informed that I would be the first and only foreigner in the company. Second, nobody knows how to speak English there, so I would have to rely on my very poor Japanese skills. For the record, I couldn’t even finish a Japanese sentence by then. Third, I am never confident with my technical skills. I am perfectly aware of the academic gaps between Filipino and Japanese graduates. As sad as this may sound, but their academic system is way more formidable than ours in the Philippines. Fourth and final reason is the heavy stereotype on Japanese companies about being strict and competitive. These 4 reasons scared me to the bone, but I was determined. And so, I charged on.
I was struggling to finish my first week in the job without feeling depressed. The language barrier has definitely cornered me. People were talking to me in straight fast-paced Japanese. Everything, starting from the emails, documents, regular conversations, meetings, announcements are all in Japanese. I was entirely left in a world where I can only understand 20% of it. When I couldn’t understand them and they needed to repeat the instructions a couple of times to me, I could hear their obvious sigh. I would often feel lost, incapable, and ashamed because of this issue. I was very close to breaking down. It was depressing indeed! However, amidst all this chaos, I’ve had this one person who had always been there to save me. It was my Technical Leader. My mentor. It really is true. The smallest bit of kindness from even a single person is enough to help you through darkest tunnels.
It makes such a huge difference when your mentor chooses to understand what you are going through. It gives you an assurance that you are understood, and that your struggles are valid. Not even once did my mentor let out a disappointing sigh despite the countless times that he needed to explain things over and over to me because of my poor Japanese. Never did my mentor made me feel sorry for my incapability of doing basic tasks because of my poor language skills. He also made sure that I be aware that he understands my circumstances. He would often say; “Daijoubu.” (It’s okay.) and “Jikan o tsukurimasu yo.” (I’ll make time.) with a smile. I would then usually spend longer hours at work and would go home very late because of my slow progress. But despite how physically tired I became, never once did I ever think of giving up. Instead, I felt amazingly motivated. That’s because I knew that there’s someone who understood my situation. I knew that that someone trusts that I can move forward and progress. It has become a means for me to survive day by day.
I can only imagine the rigid struggle I would be in if my mentor was insensitive of my situation back then. I would definitely suffer from a poor mental health or worse. By being very understanding of me, my mentor was able to save me from negative possibilities. That’s how much influence our mentors have over our lives. I will always be grateful that he used that influence, not to push me down, but to help me come through.
When Mentors choose to teach, instead of judge
Many mentors would tend to treat their member’s incapabilities as a nuisance. Of course, if their members are incapable, that would mean they would need to invest more time on them. Some mentors are definitely not happy with that.
I have been made feel like a nuisance before, so I was well-aware of how this feels for members. I never want to be put myself in that position ever again, so I would always make sure to not take too much of my mentor’s time, and do tasks independently. However, my mentor chose to teach and nurture instead judge.
Because we work together daily, my mentor was well-aware of what skills I lack. He knew that my weakness is the language. He also knew that I do not have the time and money to attend formal Japanese classes. I was very surprised when I found out that he started taking an English class just so he can communicate in English with me during dire times. He also took the initiative to help me improve my Japanese. He would take time to correct the grammar, words, and expressions that I use. Not only verbally, but also in emails and documents that I create. He made sure I would understand him by adjusting his way of talking to my level of perception. True enough, 6 months passed, and I can already form decent Japanese sentences. The documents I created were already workable and understandable to many. After a year, I can already easily participate and explain my outputs and presentations in meetings and reviews. Now, 1.5 years after, I no longer have major issues with my language skills. I also can no longer hear people’s sighs everytime they talk to me. My officemates oftentimes compliment me with how quick I adapted to the culture and how fast I’ve caught up with the language. They always tell me that I’m smart because of it, but little did they know, I just have an amazing mentor.
Aside from the challenges that the language barrier has imposed to me, I also needed to conquer another major challenge at work; my low technical skills. Since I am a dispatched employee, I was never offered any formal training for the job. I was sent straight to work on actual projects as a blank sheet of paper. I was only given general sets of instructions, and was left to study everything on my own. That’s just how things go for dispatched employees. We are left to struggle on our own. I was left clueless about the new technology, the new product, the new specifications. I really thought that will be the end of me, but of course, my mentor came to the rescue. I can no longer count the amount of time and effort he invested on me just so he can fill in the deficiencies of the system for dispatched employees. He has trained me way more than he was supposed to. I was well-aware of the extra effort he willingly gave for my training because I can observe that I received more trainings compared to other dispatched employees under him. I also know the reason why. He knew that it was hard for me to read the manuals, the design documents, and even the know-how documents because they were all in Japanese. He knew that it would be most effective if he will just explain things to me. And so he did.
Aside from the basic trainings that he so willingly gave me, he also did not miss any chance to help me improve my programming skills. He wouldn’t miss pointing out improvement points. He would also always take the time to explain the reasons of things to make sure that I understand why rules, comments, and guidelines are implemented as they are. I will never forget when he said “1nenkan gurai ato, Dana-san no ko-dinggu suki-ru wa takakuni narutoomouimasu yo.” (After 1 year, I think your coding skills will definitely become better.) as he gave me a thumbs up. True enough, one year after, our Group Leader gave me a quick positive side comment that my Coding Skills has improved tremendously. I beamed a huge smile from that comment as I replied that I definitely learned more skills in my current company compared to my 4 years stay in my previous one. My Group Leader then insisted that I should take all the credit from that. However, I knew, at the back of my mind, where the credit should mostly go, and that would be to my Technical Leader, my mentor.
Having a constructive mentor was definitely life-changing for me. Every time my mentor chose to teach instead of judge me for my failures, it gave me more motivation to always produce excellent outputs. He trusts that I can always improve. That trust gave me the confidence to always believe in myself as well. I will, of course, give myself credit to my constant hardwork, but whatever high achievements I have now can always be traced back to my mentor. This is the magic of mentors.
To all Members out there . . .
I am curently in your shoes. I shared this story to you to shed some light to the efforts and sacrifices that your mentors are doing for you. They are unsung heroes. More often than not, their efforts and sacrifices go unnoticed, and are usually dismissed as business-as-usual. I hope you appreciate them by giving it all your best every day at work.
To all Mentors out there . . .
I hope, this story I shared today will shed some light on the daily struggles of your members. I also hope that this will reemphasize how crucial the role of mentors are in your member’s lives.
As a mentor, I hope you choose to understand the struggles of your members. Ask them their reasons instead of slamming them of their failures. All of us are fighting our own battles. Instead of plunging them lower to the ground, help them get up by showing empathy. This makes a huge impact. Your empathy will help them survive their tiring days. Your empathy will give them the motivation to strive harder.
It’s very easy to hate on incapable members of the team. It is very easy to complain on why you needed to invest more time and effort to specific people. It is very easy to complain that you needed to extend longer hours at work to provide support to your members. I know that because I’ve been a mentor myself in my previous company. Looking back at that experience, now I know that I was being selfish and self-righteous. Now I am aware that instead of helping my members improve, I probably added more pressure on them by hastily judging them on their failures. Treat their incapabilities as an opportunity to teach and educate, and not the other way around. Always choose to work your magic in positive ways.
Lastly, thank you to this hero.
Last Friday was mentor’s last day in the office. He decided to pursue new endeavors in a bigger city. Up until his last day, I made sure to never miss a chance in showing him my endless gratitude. After all, this man definitely saved me in so many humanly ways possible. Whatever I am today, whatever value I was able to create for myself as a professional, will always be credited to this man. When it is my turn to become a mentor, I hope I embody the brand of mentorship this person has let me experience. I aspire that I also become a mentor that impacts people’s lives positively. This Kouhai will now give her 90-degree bow to this man. *bows*