Every person on this planet possesses a strength or two. With the proper mentoring, your child’s strengths can become a path to finding her place in the world. Let me illustrate with examples of how mentors helped my son Rob develop his talent with information technology.
At first, mentors in education fostered his strength.
Rob’s talent with computers was discovered and nurtured by two superb junior high teachers.
As a seventh grader in an Introduction to Computing class, Rob felt magic when he could make something happen on the computer. He had fun adding cool extras to his assignments. His friends all wanted to be the teacher’s aide for second semester, but Mr. Jewett chose Rob. Quick mastery of IT skills gave him a positive social identity, overcoming the tough luck of being a new kid in a junior high crowd.
In eighth grade, Rob took a Web Design course from Mr. Denise. The class was provided with PCs loaded with the latest Adobe software package and told, “Build a website with three pages. Go!” Rob was able to learn html by doing, always a better method for him than listening to a lecture. Mr. Denise also put Rob to work in the school’s computer lab, another form of hands-on learning.
Sadly, by the end of junior high Rob had already taken nearly every computer course offered through the school district. So his parents stepped in. I arranged for an independent study in simple coding. My husband and I also gave him what proved to be the best Christmas present ever: an Apple laptop. Rob “played” with it for hours on end, learning all the while.
In high school, Rob built a gaming computer as a capstone project. Two new mentors—a business teacher and a HP volunteer—generously extended themselves to support this effort. Enjoyable in its own right, the computer-building task also provided a positive focus following the death of a friend.
Workplace mentors continued to develop his strength.
Rob majored in business at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He worked part-time at the IT Help Desk for the School of Business, assisting his professors with their computer problems. On the job, in addition to making some money and growing his IT skills, he found community. His coworkers offered social support, easing the standard stresses of college with its endless round of due dates and head colds.
Rob is now employed as an IT consultant for Big Compass. He’s been self-supporting since graduation; he feels valued at work; his boss has become a mentor and role model; and he’s given the freedom to solve real-world problems in his own way. To the C++ he learned in college, he’s added programming languages like Java and Ruby on Rails—and it still feels like magic when he makes something happen on the computer. As he makes plans to specialize, IT remains a keystone.
Please note: Although the work world is competitive, Rob attained both revenue and resilience without getting straight As. He never had to win an award as The Most Magnificent McGillicuddy. It was not imperative that he attend an Ivy League institution (although he works with Ivy League teammates at client organizations, teasing them about how much they can accomplish when only one of them went to Yale).
To be sure, Rob has been fortunate to find great opportunity in his area of talent. But any strength has the potential to provide identity, community, and life direction while also increasing employment opportunities. Provided there’s a little mentoring along the way.