When it comes to influence and mentoring, there is a group of five ladies who have influenced me beyond measure. One by one, they walked into my life between 2003-2007 as we worked together at a local help clinic. My only reason for volunteering there stemmed from my desire to help women in difficult circumstances, yet I ended up being helped most of all.
This week the six of us enjoyed an unhurried dinner together, which only happens one or two times each year. Though our ages span almost 20 years, there is no awkwardness or superiority. I’m especially grateful for this, being the youngest by 10 years. Each of us faces her own struggles and successes and we celebrate and are celebrated.
While this is a tribute to my friends Linda, Karen, Sandy, Dena, and Cindy (listed in order of appearance in my life), I thought it would be helpful to share the why behind their influence and impact on my life. I know I want to become as influential as they have been for me.
Women of influence listen well
The culture of our work environment made staff and volunteer care just as important as client care. When anyone had a need, we were listened to fully and without any sense of hurry. While Linda had a significant workload, I remember spending hours in her office, chatting about my personal life and struggles. She’d turn toward me, away from her desk, away from her phone and listen fully. Honestly, I don’t remember any specific advice over the years—maybe I was just processing verbally. Either way, Linda made me feel safe.
When I finally faced my depression in 2011, Karen and Dena were the first women I spoke to about it. Yet again, no one made attempts to fix me or direct me. Yes, they encouraged me to seek help. But for the most part, they just listened well.
Women of influence affirm rather than judge
I arrived at the center as a confused 24-year-old who just wanted to help other women. At that point, I didn’t know who I was or have a strong worldview. My clothes were unstylish, and my understanding of pop culture non-existent. At the time, I ran a successful mid-sized piano studio from my home, but I had no college education and very little life experience. And all I remember receiving from these women is love and acceptance. I might mock myself, but they would never mock me.
This Tuesday during dinner, I shared some personal parenting struggles I’m facing. The girls affirmed and encouraged me, but not one word of judgement or criticism entered the conversation. The only “shoulds” they spoke included showing grace to myself and knowing that I wouldn’t be stuck in this trying situation for long.
Women of influence love well
Through the past 12 years, these women have attended birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, my wedding, and dinner in my home. We’ve made time individually and in groups to meet up for coffee or a meal. Even with the age gap, these women are truly some of the best friends I’ve even known…even though we rarely see each other.
I think their listening and affirming skills are the best evidence of their love. There are very few people in the world with whom you can completely let your hair down and let all the junk of life hang out. Yet these women know everything about me—even things I haven’t told my mom or sisters—and if anything, that openness has made us closer.
Women of influence have a strong sense of humor
Every single one of these friends carries painful scars from her past—things that could paralyze less resilient women. I believe, in addition to choosing ways to seek help and healing, their ability to laugh well adds to their influence. We talk about heavy topics and shallow ones equally well.
Women of influence leave you feeling renewed
By the time I headed back to my crazy mom-life Tuesday evening, I felt completely recharged. I also knew I needed to write this post as a tribute to my friends. As I told My Guy, there’s some magical chemistry in our group that I don’t experience anywhere else.
In the process of writing this, I’ve been asking myself where I can be more of a mentor. Nothing official—I think that’s part of the beauty of my friendship with these women: we didn’t set out to have a mentoring relationship. It just happened organically.
But in order for me to be that influential woman to someone else, I need to have those five strengths: listening, affirming, loving, laughing, and renewing. Once again, my friends have inspired me to be better and continue growing. And I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
Have you had any specific mentors or influencers in your life? What did they do that made the biggest impact?