FirstSpark blog by Ashley Ward
I’m incredibly fortunate to have had numerous influential mentors and role models throughout my life and my relationship with each brought something different and served a purpose. There are many similarities in the overall values and characteristics this motley crew of mentors possessed and each left a distinct mark based on how we were connected, my age and station in life, their role and how they went about teaching and influencing me.
Family members were my earliest mentors and role models. I learned about the importance of compassion, doing for others and understanding all sides of an issue from my father. When I was young, we were kindred spirits. As I grew into adulthood and moved away, our relationship became more complicated. He passed away suddenly seven years ago and I’m at peace knowing the last words I spoke to him were “I love you.” My father’s gentle nature and tender heart made a mark on me from the beginning. I learned what it could look like to care for a family from my mother. She also taught me the importance of doing what needs to be done when the going gets tough. When I was in high school, she returned to her career as a teacher after staying home to raise me and my sister. This involved going back to school to get her ESL certification and she still tells stories of her students and how they impacted her worldview in profound ways. During this time she bravely fought, and won, the hard battle with breast cancer. Our entire family became stronger and more courageous because of my mother’s resolve and tenacity.
My sister is older by 5 years, which means that I grew up wanting to walk in her shadow and in her shoes. She paved the way for me, always first to do everything. She taught me what it means to grow up believing you can do anything you want and to pursue goals with hard work and vigor. A natural leader, she showed me how to step up and lead in traditional and non-conventional ways, while doing it gracefully and well. She was a swimmer, so I followed suit. In high school, she was a rower and a class officer so naturally, I had to do the same. Our college years looked different as do our careers paths, which express our individuality. My sister’s modeling of bravery, self-confidence, assertiveness, loyalty and perseverance (among many other traits) has played a tremendous role in who I am today. Her mark on my life has been a constant.
My grandmothers were very different individuals yet both were strong, independent and progressive women from the south where they had grown up and raised their families. Both had careers outside of the home and large families. They were profound role models for me. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career, in addition to having a family, because of the example they set.
During my school years, a few teachers stood out as special and left their mark on my self-confidence. In elementary school, I had a beloved teacher for 2 years in a row. I sought her attention and she gave it; I went above and beyond in assignments and volunteered to do anything she requested of her class because I wanted to be in her presence. Mrs. Jones made me feel special. My junior year English teacher was brutally honest and critical about my writing. As much as it stung, I learned from her feedback and started to understand how to accept and respond to constructive criticism. In senior year, when I had largely checked out, my AP Biology teacher captivated my attention. Mr. Zito knew how to make biology interesting and fun. I looked forward to his class every day and worked hard all year.
When I entered the workforce after college, I encountered new types of mentors who were there to teach me the mechanics of my position as well as guide my development as a professional. I had some great ones and came across a few that taught me how NOT to lead. Early on, I learned the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries between managers/supervisors and direct reports. I experienced being a peer with someone who was a more seasoned manager. I admired his leadership style and was eager to learn from him however, as time went on, his interest in me started to cross a line. Looking back now, I was not equipped with the skills to deal with his behavior as effectively as I would today. I wish I had sought advice and support from a trusted mentor at the time.
In graduate school, I encountered amazing mentors through my internships. I worked with two women who had founded a small, Christian-based nonprofit that provided after school care and social services to students and families in need. The women were also life partners. I learned so much about life and leadership from these women by witnessing their determination to live out their purpose authentically and stand in their truth. In another internship, I was mentored by passionate community advocates who were, and still are today, fighting for the causes they believe in wholeheartedly. These experiences ignited a fire inside of me to find an organization where I could engage in community work with equal fervor.
When I landed at Charmm’d years later, I knew I had found my nonprofit home where I would be supported, encouraged, developed and challenged while doing impactful work with community leaders who make a difference every day. I have the privilege of working with a team who is caring, committed and accountable. We support and challenge each other to bring our best selves to our work and our lives outside of work. We work hard to be effective and productive for the benefit of all. We serve as mentors and role models to one another and that is powerful. Daily, I interact with and get to be mentored by the most selfless community leaders, for whom I have great respect. I get to learn from their experiences and the sage advice they give one another. I am surrounded by the most amazing role models and regularly witness their courage, vulnerability, passion, ingenuity, determination, compassion…the list could go on for miles.
I believe life is rich with meaning and purpose when we are constantly striving to learn and grow. Mentors and role models can have a tremendous impact on who we are and who we become.
Thank you to all who have been and are currently my mentors and role models. I will be forever grateful for the mark you’ve left on me!
I invite you to reflect on the important people in your life and the impact they’ve had on you. Then, think about the times you have been a mentor or role model to others. Consider the lessons you have shared along the way and how your experiences and wisdom have affected others.
Questions for self-reflection:
Who have been the key mentors and role models in your life and why?
What are their values and how do you know?
How do they build relationships and show others they care?
How do they show vulnerability and ask for help?
How do they continue to learn and grow?
When have you been a mentor or role model?
What was important about those relationships to you?
What values and beliefs did you strive to model and teach?
What did you learn from the experience?
How do you celebrate the unique contributions you make in the world?
I look forward to hearing from you...