Sometimes in life we want to know the answers to some tough questions. Or at least they seem tough because our life experience is not sufficient enough to provide us with the answers. Maybe it’s due to our education level, whether that’s formal or just the ‘school of hard knocks’, but for some reason or other we don’t always necessarily have the answers. And sometimes we don’t even know what questions to ask.
In this 21stcentury we have lovely online resources like Google and Wikipedia, or even Siri or something like that on our smart phones. Those things are great, but there are some questions in life that require the human element. They require the wisdom that comes from age, experience, and even occasional mistakes. Those mistakes might be our own or observation of others, but if we learn from them, then mistakes are a way to gain wisdom.

I read a great meme one time that stated, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” I love that. Wisdom is often gained from the errors in judgment that we, or others, make. A bad decision can actually be a good thing, if we retain the lesson we learn and don’t make the same mistake again.

We also can learn from others when we watch them handle things well. While we would all prefer these positive role models, sometimes others serve as cautionary tales that illustrate for us the exact ways not to conduct ourselves. When we are searching for that person who can steer us in the right direction, give us the timely advice, keep us from mucking up the works, we are looking for a mentor.

I have recently learned that there are people in the Army Spouse ranks who are diligently searching for a mentor. There are Army Spouses who would love some sage advice, honest feedback, and maybe a little kindness from someone who has been around the block a few more times than they have. They are earnestly trying to find a person to take an interest in their development and to help them figure out their place in the Army family world today.

I think it’s important for us to be there for a younger and/or less experienced Spouse. With no judgment, but only encouragement and compassion, we more seasoned Spouses can be the mentor and role model another Spouse needs and wants.

It’s important to not only encourage but also show by word and deed the ways in which you have learned to maneuver and conduct yourself in the role of Army Spouse and senior Spouse.

My husband likes to say there are 2 kinds of people in the Army: leaders and future leaders. I believe that’s true of Spouse leaders, also. It is vital that we share the customs, courtesies, protocols and traditions we have learned if we want to help people be the sources of wisdom they can be for those who will one day follow in their footsteps.

And sometimes we can just show someone how to behave. If we were not properly mentored, it is not too late to learn ourselves the correct ways of doing things. There are always people to emulate and learn from. At the very least we can be kind, patient, honest, and good humored so that others can see some of the qualities that make a good leader and mentor.

You don’t have to have all the answers; you just need to encourage and support someone who is confused or unsure while you find the right person to give that Spouse the answer s/he deserves.

One quality I’ve observed in the strong mentors and role models I have known is a firm knowledge of Army family support programs so that they can be that resource when others are unsure of where to turn.

A good mentor is also very patient and sensitive to the needs of those seeking her help. Approachable is the term often used to describe effective leaders. If you are open and really listen to what others have to say, if you are genuinely interested in the challenges and hurdles they face, you will find more people looking to you for advice or guidance when situations they are not necessarily equipped to handle arise.

Another favorite quote of mine is, “If you must choose between being right and being kind, choose kind.” I really think that goes a very long way in keeping us on the right path when serving as a role model or mentor. If that is not your default setting, you can work on that. Without any judgment, I just say that having patience and being diplomatic when faced with the glaring errors of others who simply do not know better, may be difficult but is always the better way.

I would much rather count to ten silently before speaking than respond without thought and say or do something I can’t take back and that won’t be forgotten, even if I do apologize for it.

Treating others as you would like to be treated is a very good credo for one’s life. I try desperately to do that consistently, though sometimes I fail.

I ask you to think about the senior Spouses in your life who made the biggest impact – positive and negative. Learn from both, emulating the former and avoiding the actions of the latter.

One thing to look out for is the mentor you may have had when you were less experienced who you believed to be so wise but, upon reflection as a more mature person, you realize was not all that wise, just very self-assured. Heading off in the wrong direction confidently is still heading the wrong way. You will be able to tell the difference if you spend some time reflecting on these people. Did they leave discord or apathy in their wake? That is not someone whose behavior you want to follow, even if they seemed worthy at the time.

Trust your own instincts, too. An assessment of the environment they foster or develop is a good thing to observe when looking for a mentor. We’re none of us perfect so don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t have the answer or don’t know where to turn. That’s OK, too. Someone who listens and has compassion for a situation will more than likely be appreciated by a younger or less experienced Spouse who is looking for guidance.

I leave all of this with you to contemplate, discuss, and use or lose. These are just observations and suggestions from someone who has been blessed with awesome mentors in my life. I want to be like those Spouses when I ‘grow up’. Lord knows, I will fail repeatedly and often fall short of the mark. But a goal or a vision is always good to have so you can gauge your progress and ensure you’re headed in a positive and productive direction, for yourself and others who are looking to you.


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