Dear Val: Do I Need to Be an Extrovert to Be a Good Mentor?

Dear Val,

I am a young woman newly out of college, but I have been asked quite frequently to engage in the role of mentor to younger people who are going through changes that I have recently been through—the transition from college to professional life. I have been asked to provide career advice in general and tips on the transition from college to professional life.

I struggle with these requests. After the first introductory talk with a mentee, I don’t really know what to do with them. From my perspective, it is expected that a mentor would be someone extroverted, well-networked, and with easy access to everything. I know I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.

How can I help them and offer them something when I’m still struggling with connecting to people, speaking up at meetings, and dealing with my insecurities?

Obviously, the mentees seemed interested in things I had to say, and I did my best to share good and bad experiences, but I often feel I fall short on what I can offer them. What qualities, as an introvert, can I pass along to young professionals?

For instance, I feel very uncomfortable taking the mentee with me to a professional social gathering because the situation is already hard for me, but I often feel networking opportunities are expected. If I take the mentee to a meeting, I feel even more pressured to “perform” well, usually in an extroverted manner, such as speaking up and giving ideas, in order to be a good example of how the mentee should act to succeed. In sum, I feel I need to put on a show. It can be exhausting.

As an introvert, I feel I have succeeded by working “backstage.I discuss issues with my bosses prior to and after larger meetings, but I seldom speak up in larger groups. I write down ideas instead of discussing them, I am a good listener, and so on.

I don’t know how to translate this into useful tips for the mentees in a way that resonates with who I am and with what they need.

~Baffled in Brazil

Dear Baffled,

Im sad to hear that you dont feel you have enough value to offer your mentees. I can see very clearly in your story how valuable your mentoring is to them.

The worry youre feeling is because you think youre doing it wrong, when in fact youre doing fine. We often think that the extroverted way is the right way or the only way to be successful. Or that networking or meeting participation is supposed to happen in a certain outgoing way.

Yet, despite that pressure, youve managed to find success on your own terms. Thats huge! What better role model could a young mentee ask for?

Introverts can be successful too if we do it our own way. When we try to do it someone elses way, thats when it doesnt work.

You can help your mentees find what works for them. You don’t have to know how to do it any other way than your own. Watching you forge your own path will help them learn how to do the same.

From what youve said, theyre already appreciating what you give them. Take that in. You deserve to feel confident about what youre already doing.

You don’t have to have mastered everything before you have something valuable to offer. No one has mastered everything even if they look polished on the outside.

Believe it or not, most women have this same feeling—that they are not enough yetno matter what age and no matter how successful. (You can find some fascinating examples and tips in the book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young.)

I am middle-aged and fairly confident and experienced, and I still have moments when I question whether I know enough to help a new client. I wonder what I could possibly offer. And then I remind myself, All I need is me. I have what I have to offer, and they are asking for that.

And it seems to work out, over and over again. I find that I am adding a lot of value by just being me.

If I try to be someone else, I am NOT adding value.

All you need is you. You can share what you know, and you can help them find what works for them. No extrovert mask required.

For moments of self-doubt, you can borrow my favorite mantra:

I am enough…and so much more, right now.

Readers, Id love to hear your experience as a mentor or a mentee and what helped it work for you.

Career or business worries? Send your questions to us!