October 11, 2016
I’ve been compiling a list of books to read for as long as I can remember. This on-going list most likely began when I was a fierce competitor for AR points in middle school. Now, however, it’s a list of books that will bring me joy, bring me thought, or bring me a lesson. My list of to-reads seems to stretch on and on, but through this list I stumbled upon reading Misty Copeland's Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.
I say stumble, but it was no accident. Misty has always been someone that has fascinated me. I love her story. I love her career, but most importantly she inspires me. She is a woman who achieved the seemingly unachievable in a world very much so designed to ensure her failure. So, I downloaded her biography (because, with a sigh, the ease of my iPad has replaced most books) and set out to read it.
It was an amazingly quick and easy read - jumping through her beginnings as a ballerina to her struggle to make it as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. I was hooked. I had no idea she had a ballet instructor basically ensure she could dance, going as far as securing her sponsorships and having her live with her for a time. I also was amazed to see just how much of a connection and relationship she had with Prince. She would often frequent his home and perform in his shows.
What really struck me over and over again though was her ability to recognize and push for strong mentors throughout her life. It seemed like on every other page Misty was thanking someone or explaining how someone helped her get to where she is now. Every. Other. Page. I couldn't ignore it. The blatant screaming that mentors are important was too real.
I've always viewed myself as certainly having help along the way to get to where I am now. I can pinpoint the individuals who have impacted me, helped me, written recommendation letters, and talked me through life ups and downs. What I can't pinpoint is me actually recognizing key individuals as mentors, prizing them as such. I can't remember being explicit about someone as a mentor, identifying them as one in my life and having them know they are that to me. Instead, I have always just accepted the guidance, the help, thanked them, and continued the relationship.
What Misty so poignantly showed through the story of her life, is that it's important to recognize mentorship for what it is. Call it that. Name it. Having a few key mentors and taking the time to recognize that relationship for what it is in your mind and in theirs, is needed. What I learned from Misty is that you can't move on your own. You need strong women, strong people, to guide you and you need to loudly and clearly recognize them as mentors. Take the time to acknowledge that you see them as a mentor, and then develop the relationship as such.
Misty’s entire journey to principal ballerina was dotted along the way with mentors clearly labeled - women (and the occasional man) who poured into her and her journey. There was never a question in her mind of who these individuals were to her, and because of that their mentorship flourished. She was made stronger, and seeing her rise intrinsically rewarded the women who poured into her.
Now, Misty gives back tirelessly to the Boys and Girls Club, the organization that initially began her foray into ballet. Her life mantra of sorts has become this is for the little brown girls. It’s repeated throughout her biography. Because she was given so much, because she had people help her, she will now help others, and she will do so clearly.
As student affairs professionals, as women, and for myself as a little brown girl, we need to clearly pour into others both as mentees and mentors. We need to do what Misty has begun to do and what her mentors did for her: boldly find the individuals that can join us in mentorship. Seek them out. Something so striking about her biography was that there were key women who specifically, boldly, and intentionally went to her - sought her - and said I'm here. Let me help you. Let me walk this journey with you. I, and certainly we, can work to do that, too.
Hannah Hendricks is a Career Consultant at The University of Texas at Arlington where she strives to be a passionate educator, a lifelong creative, and a servant leader. Hannah views mostly everything as an adventure. While she doesn’t have each adventure figured out, she likes to write in an attempt to. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @hannahhendricks or by visiting www.hannahhendricks.com.
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