National Mentoring Day, October 27, falls in the middle of “spooky season.” In honor of the day and the season, the UGA Mentor Program is debunking the myth that mentorship can be scary.
We spoke with UGA mentee and UGA Mentor Program Ambassador Sahar Joshi (Class of 2024) and her UGA mentor Will Caplan (AB ’16, AB ’16), senior wargaming analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton, about their experiences in the program and what they would say to ease the fears of potential participants.
Did you have any fears about joining the UGA Mentor Program?
S: I was a little intimated. Browsing through the profiles of potential mentors, I found they were all somebody I wanted to impress; somebody I wanted to be like. I was afraid I wasn’t worthy, and I’d be wasting their time. But the program emphasized that UGA Mentors are volunteering their time because they WANT to hear from students.
W: For me, I was afraid that I wasn’t far enough removed from being a student myself. What if my journey was too specific to be of help to anyone else? But I thought back to when I was in their shoes. This was before UGA had established this mentorship program, and people took time to help me out. I just knew I needed to pay it forward.
What inspired you to sign up?
S: I knew what I wanted to do. I was focused on national security and wanted to end up in D.C. I felt like the mentor program would be a great way to empower myself to learn from people who had been through the same process as me and had made it in this field.
W: I remember back when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I wished for someone to talk to. I wanted to find someone established in their career but not so far along that they could no longer relate to college life or understand pop culture references. I signed up to serve in that role for a student looking for what I had been looking for at their age.
Were you nervous to meet for the first time?
W: Definitely. I have an eccentric sense of humor and I talk really fast. With my personality, you either really enjoy it or find it overwhelming. And not knowing this other person and what they’re looking to get out of mentorship brought up questions. Am I going to be able to do enough? Am I going to meet their expectations?
S: That comes as a complete shock to me. I didn’t pick up on that at all. When I first met Will, I was just so focused on digesting the information we were going through. Every time I thought of a question while he was talking, he’d move on with what he was saying and answer it, without me having to ask. Will came across as someone who was completely prepared and confident. But I am kind of glad to hear that we were actually in the same boat at that first meeting.
Is there a fear mentorship helped you overcome?
S: There are so many. Going for an internship in D.C. was scary. I had never been that far away from home and family. But Will helped me out in so many ways. I remember being scared of not being perfect in front of him, but, especially during mock interviews, Will helped me understand it was better to make a mistake in front of him than in the actual interview. I honestly think that’s a great example of what mentorship is like. A mentor is someone you can make mistakes in front of. You learn you don’t have to be perfect, just be prepared and be comfortable with yourself.
W: One of my favorite pieces of advice to give mentees is to not make perfect the enemy of good. I think the best part of the mentee/mentor relationship is being able to talk things through. I always tell mentees not to feel like they have to have everything figured out. No one has everything planned and in place. Ask questions. Be flexible. It’s okay not to feel totally in control of every aspect. That’s life.
What surprised you about mentorship?
W: I’d say I was most surprised about how the relationship is so much fuller and focused on topics beyond professionalism and career. For instance, Sahar and I have really bonded over our shared love of the Atlanta Braves baseball. When Sahar was in D.C. for her internship, we made it a point to go watch the Braves play the Nats. And being a part of the mentor program has made me feel more connected to UGA. It’s made me want to give back even more because I can see how rewarding and helpful it is.
S: I came into this with a vision of what I wanted my future to look like. Then Will played a part in destroying that vision in the best way possible. (She laughs.) But he also helped me build it back up in a more realistic way. There is so much you don’t know, can’t know, until you talk to someone who DOES know—especially with industries that are specialized or location-based. Mentorship is great for bridging that gap! It’s amazing the confidence you get from someone being your personal cheerleader and encouraging you every step of the way—whether it’s a rejection letter or an acceptance letter, and we’ve been through both.
W: When Sahar got that internship and was able to come to D.C., it was so satisfying like, “We did it!”
S: Yeah, I remember when we grabbed coffee in D.C. and I was sort of debriefing Will on my internship. We celebrated because we had set this goal and worked through all the steps, then we made it happen together.
So, if mentorship isn’t scary, what’s something that is?
W: Mannequins. (shudder)
Learn more about the totally non-scary UGA Mentor Program at mentor.uga.edu.