• The Ying Yang of Mentorship

    The Chinese concept of Yin Yang describes how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent.

    As women in the workers’ compensation industry, most of us have been subject to a barrage of advice from fellow colleagues, particularly in the earlier phases of our careers. This advice is well-intended and almost all of  it has merit for young women navigating the often male-dominated world of our industry. Perhaps you’ve heard mentors remind you to exhibit these important behaviors and qualities?

    I personally needed this advice; every bit of it. Growing up in a somewhat traditional family in the native southwest, I was not taught to do these things. I was “the girl” in our family. My father was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War and, later, Sargent of the police department in our small rural town. Yes, he was THAT dad.

    As you might imagine, advancing as a female executive in the industry was no easy feat for me (nor for poor Dad, who needed to know every city I traveled to, and, every chance he had, would remind me to not stray too far from my hotel due to the dangers that lurked outside…).

    Thankfully, I had the gift of wise and experienced mentors who recognized the anxieties I carried into the industry, and took genuine interest in coaching them out of me. I will never forget attending a conference with one of many I really admire. She had taken me under her wing and advised, “We never do cute here, we do intelligent and on point.”

    She led by example in the way she met introductions with a firm handshake and in her preparedness to speak to our services with conviction. It didn’t take much for me to follow her lead. That one shift from taking a demure and passive approach to being direct and speaking up was met with great respect and further interest in what I had to say. I couldn’t believe it had worked! I was growing and learning how to navigate and, in some situations, how to control the competitive business environment I found myself in.

    I’ll refer to this advice as the “Power Advice.” It’s the kind of advice that has allowed me to succeed in an industry that was foreign to the culture in which I grew up. It has helped me to move up the ladder, find new opportunities, grow my network, and continually embrace challenges head-on. It’s allowed me to move my children into a major city, send them to good schools, purchase property in a great neighborhood, and travel to incredible places.

    There is another kind of advice that some of these same mentors have given me, and it is equally, if not more, important. I’ll call this category the “Values Advice.” It’s the advice that was given in times of true duress and during authentic, rather than transactional, exchanges. We give it to each other when something truly important — family, health, one’s sense of true self — are at stake.

    Values Advice is the kind that celebrates and validates the selfless qualities within us. It does not look down upon the more traditional feminine qualities of collaboration and service to others. For me, personally, it ensures I can look myself in the mirror and like the person that I see. The Values Advice list looks like this:

    Every day in our industry we are faced with the reality of people whose lives and futures have been altered, sometimes incalculably. In order to do our jobs well while remaining healthy and sane, I believe we must balance Power traits and Values traits. We have to navigate the competitive world of obtaining referrals and closing contracts, but also have to give ourselves the emotional space to feel empathy for the lives that have been turned upside down by work-related injuries in a world that is too often unjust and random. Most importantly, we have to believe in the purpose we serve.

    If I was asked to give advice to young, up-and-coming mentees, it would be to embrace both the traditional, Western concept of “power” that drives our industry, but to also embrace the values you secretly know are a key to a more sustainable and holistic sense of success. Use your power to make the lives of others better — whether they be clients, colleagues, family, or friends. The secret to true success is understanding that “winning” isn’t defined solely by the size of your last signed contract or your salary, but also by the authenticity of your business and personal relationships, the positive sense of your own self, and the degree of joy and purpose you feel as you walk into that next big meeting.

    I am personally grateful to have many mentors who have been an important part of my life, whom I still consider dear friends today. What I have learned from each of them is that true success comes from helping others to become successful, and that the greatest way to show my gratitude is to continue to pay it forward.