Invitation to mentor (and be mentored) by Sherene Zolno

One thing I try to emphasize in my training of coaches is that you cannot coach into “no request.” For me, this has meant that there’s some understanding on the part of the other person that they need help or perspective. They may not have clarity on their predicament, not a fully formed sense of choice, mind you, but they have at least a spark of,  “Hmmm, this just isn’t working; perhaps I’ll ask for help.”

Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting.

That summer I went to work at the shop of my parents’ friends. They had a refrigerator repair business and I answered the phones, took orders, and sent out their guys on jobs. Generally alone, I listened to the top ten on the radio and called in to try for a prize when I knew the answer to one of the DJ's questions.

I felt lonely and overlooked. Sad and uninspired. I was smart, in the top 10% of my class, but there was nothing special about that from what I could tell.

But for one thing.

My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was taking summer classes at the Albany State Teachers College, not far from where I was working. She offered to drive out to the country where we lived, 3 miles out of town from Troy, New York, pick me up and then drop me off at my job on her way to the school.

It was a most unusual relationship, this teen and her teacher.

During those long rides, we talked about reading and books, learning from literature, and I also remember reading a few challenging books, including her recommendation, the difficult and lengthy Anna Karenina. We discussed it, and I understood . . . well, some of it.

We also talked about our lives, and what possibilities the future could hold. I shared with her some of what I was feeling – the grief of a 14 year old who felt on the margins of life. Mrs. Cohen listened, without apparent need to fix me or my world.

So what was the invitation Mrs. Cohen felt that led to her driving miles out of her way to take me to work and to her sharing her life with me that summer – to being my special mentor and coach?

We never talked about it. But I believe that I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate my grief and need, nor could I have formed then a request for her help.

Now, so many years later, I can only guess at her motives. But I recognize how an invitation was given and received, and it was a blessing, even if unspoken by this teenage kid and her English teacher.

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