How mentoring

saved my 2020

While the pandemic pushed us all indoors, I found an outlet that really helped me through it. I am a super social person, I love talking about design, art, work, pop culture and everything in between. So the idea of being home all day without a certain level of human interaction (outside of work zoom calls) seemed treacherous. Then as I was scrolling Linkedin I came across this post about becoming a design mentor and I figured I would give it a try. I had no idea how much it would change my life.

Joe Cahill running a mentoring session

December 29, 2020

As your career grows you find yourself moving into leadership positions, for me it was always natural to want to lead, encourage, and motivate people. So being a mentor was almost part of the package for me even before I was labeled as a “leader” and I truly loved it. I have been told I have a different way to look at mentoring than most. For me, it has always been about me being a guiding force alongside someone and not a straight-up “you should do this?” Or “you should do that”. My main technique has always been around ‘you chart your course’, like a true UX person I always ask people how they feel about the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I will definitely give advice if it’s needed but I always wrap it around a story from my experience or an analogy that is easy to digest (analogies are usually around food).

So starting in April at 7 am est and ending at 10 pm I open my calendar for people. Much to my surprise, people start booking time and booking time and booking time. I was like oh fuck, what am I going to say to these people? What if they think I’m mental? then the worst thought in my head… What if they don’t get anything out of it? So I took my first call it was a young designer from fucking SINGAPORE. So we talked about her experience, what she is looking to do with her career, and my story. I hung up the zoom call, gave out a big exhale, and said to myself that wasn’t too bad. I immediately received a LinkedIn request a note saying how my energy was refreshing, upbeat, and what they needed. My heart was full.

This is where you cut to an 80’s style montage of me doing zoom calls where we are laughing, tons of hand gestures, and me cursing at least once a session.

So as if Singapore wasn’t far enough from NY then I chatted with people in the UK, Mid West US, West Coast US, Ireland, India, China, and Australia. I couldn’t believe how this pandemic helped me reach so far and so many.

I looked back at the year and I was quite astonished at what I saw.

Maybe there is something good to come out of world is ending in 2020?

Have I found my outlet for being locked down at home and being alone?

Holy shit, yes I have!

If this wasn’t enough to keep me going, hearing everyone’s journey to UX, design, or the next step in their career was amazing. They have come from so many different disciplines but all had one common thread… How can I help people, and create a great product? Especially when I am just starting out? I would leave sessions asking myself the same thing sometimes. This really means we are all in the right place, and we are going to create with the right intentions.

The biggest question I was asked always started with “HOW…”

… write a great case study?

… get a job during a pandemic?

… have someone take me seriously?

… am I going to succeed when I am starting over?

… do I interview for this?

… did you handle any of this?

Those are not easy questions to answer for anyone, right away but we always started the sessions the same way. Let’s find your voice and how you present your work. Authenticity, as well as a passion for me, are one of the most important pillars for any new employee. If you stay true to that you will find a job that will not only embrace you but give you the tools for you to succeed. Having a kickass case study helps a lot too (haha). The idea of “making it perfect” comes with time, but it will never be “perfect”.

This type of pressure generally leads to us putting pressure on ourselves to perform. We need to always make sure we take time to be easy on ourselves. You can still have drive and empathy for yourself. Our job is about being empathic towards people, for fucks sake.

So having these conversations with all the mentees lead to me constantly reflecting on myself. The pressure I put on myself, how I see myself as a professional, and how I see myself as a person. This mentoring thing became a two-way street. I don’t think they had any idea of the effect they were having on me.

Saying this was one hell of a fucking shit show of a year is an understatement. If it has taught us anything, it’s how a community is important, how we stand by each other, and most of all how we help each other so we all can succeed.

During Adobe Max conference this year Common said “Mentoring is a way to replenish the community” as we go through our careers we should always make sure we pay it forward.

If you want to book time for a mentoring session via the ADP list click here