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What to do when your female mentor leaves

Written by Chris Morgan Published on 

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When all you really want to do is curl up in bed and cry.

Her text came through at 9:53 p.m. “Can we talk tomorrow?” I suspected what it meant but hoped I was wrong. “Sure. Please not about you leaving?” “Let’s talk,” she replied. That’s when I knew. She was not only leaving my firm, but also the garden of inspiration, guidance, sponsorship, and support for me and many other women that she lovingly tended to for years.

She was the leader I’d always wished for. Feisty, polished, temperamental, beautiful, loyal, imperfect, and strong. Equal parts gravitas and inspiration, she holds any audience in the palm of her hand. Her energy and enthusiasm are boundless and infectious. But her secret power is her honesty. She speaks truth to power. She adeptly exposes inequities. And she does not mince words with those she supports, either. Her truth can hurt. Once, she told me “I knew there were huge talent and heart under your reserved exterior,” or words to that effect. Inside, I protested the characterization. But I knew she was right.

She read me instantly and highlighted what I needed to work on. And she helped me do that with encouragement, tough love, and a call to action. She praised me for our leadership. She pushed me to seek advancement. She pushed others to advance me. She challenged me to improve my visibility. She encouraged me to raise my hand for stretch assignments and to organize high-profile events. She motivated me to work hard and champion our women. And in just a few short months under her tutelage, her efforts bore fruit. I took on higher-profile roles at work. I chalked up a series of wins. I began leading our women in our office. I took every opportunity I got to raise their profiles, as she had raised mine. I told anyone who would listen about the studies consistently proving that increasing women in leadership makes companies more profitable. I wondered why this research wasn’t resonating or creating any sense of urgency. I met our country’s key thought leaders on diversity and inclusion. I became vocal on social media about gender parity. And in the blink of an eye, I had grown more than I had in my twenty-plus year career. With her support, I finally believed in myself.

I had needed that support, badly. In an industry where no signs of weakness shall be shown, she helped me and many other women find our repressed femininity, our authenticity. We had embodied the stronger, poker-faced imposter for so long that we had gradually morphed into it. We needed someone to hold up a mirror and show us that someone else was behind the mask. We needed someone to tell us that it’s ok to reveal who we are, to be vulnerable. We needed someone to look past our self-limiting beliefs and show us what we could achieve. We needed unconditional faith in our untapped abilities. We needed help rediscovering our true selves. We needed someone championing us. We needed to feel the love in the room. We needed her. We need her.

She gave us what only a woman who has travelled our road can provide: she tapped us on the shoulder and said, “I believe.”

When she told me she was leaving, I cried, got angry, and felt empty. I knew her departure would leave a huge vacuum of inspiration and support in its wake. No one could replace her. And I hadn’t prepared myself, at all. I didn’t have a life raft.

So, I created the list of steps below to work my way through this. They are self-explanatory. And I have done all of them. They helped me, a lot. And if you are facing something similar, I hope they help you.

  1. Allow yourself to grieve but don’t take up real estate in your sadness.
  2. Reflect on the lessons you learned from your mentor and keep applying them.
  3. Step into any leadership gap left by your mentor’s departure.
  4. Check in with your mentor frequently to maintain the relationship.
  5. Become the mentor someone else has been waiting for.

This article was first published here on Medium. 

Chris is a lawyer by day and a blogger by night.  She writes about gender equality and personal development.  Chris is deeply committed to the advancement of women and sits on the board of directors of Alpha Girls Institute, a nonprofit focused on the empowerment of young women and girls formed by New York Times bestselling author Julian Guthrie. Read more of Chris’ writing at https://chrismorgan-1657.medium.com/

Disclaimer: This article was written by a contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

WRITTEN BY

Chris Morgan

Chris is a lawyer by day and blogger by night. She writes about gender equality and personal development. Chris is deeply committed to the advancement of women and sits on the board of directors of Alpha Girls Institute, a nonprofit focused on the empowerment of young women and girls formed by New York Times bestselling author Julian Guthrie. Read more of Chris' writing at https://chrismorgan-1657.medium.com/

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