What is a mentor? According to the dictionary, a mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” We all have learned from others throughout life, whether it is personal or professional. As children we learned from adults and older children the ways of life and learned to expand our minds. Our interests were molded from continual learning and guidance at all stages of life, making us who we are today. As we continue to age into adulthood, the learning and interests in certain topics continue to evolve. We learn from others and, no matter our age, look for guidance along the way.
Each individual’s journey is no single path, and there are twists and turns in the road of life and career. A mentor comes in many forms and may be as a parent, friend or someone who is a complete stranger. It also may be a chance meeting with someone in the profession; and, over a glass of wine, a friendship is started. This is how my professional story began to evolve, and one of the most impactful mentor/mentee relationships of my career blossomed. Many of us either know of or have heard of Patti DiGangi, owner of DentalCodeology and Beyond Oral Health. Her larger-than-life personality and drive for success led to a successful career in speaking, writing and business. Patti has learned by trial and error many of the tips and tricks of business, speaking and writing and has opened her arms to mentoring others. My story is just one in the vast group of Patti’s mentees.
While having a relationship with a mentor can help enlighten and uplift an individual, it also must be a good fit for the mentor to mentee. Finding the “right fit” can be a challenge, and, as Patti will tell you, she has to learn to not take the outcomes of a mentee’s career path wins and losses personally. Personalities and the needs of both involved parties must also be considered. For me personally, I started out having a little dream of writing. After our chance meeting and a glass of wine, Patti encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone. Through guidance and some tough love she has helped me craft my voice on paper and, when the time came, made introductions to editors in the industry.
While the mentor/mentee relationship could be argued it benefits the mentee more, there are some perks for the mentor as well. My personal belief is to pay good deeds forward, whereas I had Patti and others help guide me along my journey, I often meet others who are also looking for some advice along the way. Mentoring students, youth, new hygienists and others is a way of giving back to others in honor of those who helped mentor me along my journey.
Many ask, “How do I find a mentor?” There is really no right or wrong way, however it requires you to make yourself a little vulnerable. To make change and learn, you must exhibit vulnerability to open your mind, to accept suggestions and, most of all, to be honest. As a mentee it is hard to ask for help, but you will find the mentor is usually more than willing to offer advice on what they found works and what doesn’t. The relationship allows you to bounce thoughts and ideas and ask for advice from someone who has lived similar experiences.
The difference between a good mentor and a great mentor is more than just a common interest. Not everyone who is willing to be a mentor is a great resource. For example, a mentor who works well with me and my personality and goals may not be the best choice for another person. Likewise, I probably would not be the best choice as a mentee for some of the most successful mentors. As Patti noted in one of our many conversations, mentors must learn not to take the mentees’ outcomes personally. How a person applies the advice and guidance does not reflect on the mentor.
“On too many occasions to count, Patti has made me think and evaluate the hard questions about what I want to do and how to accomplish my goals (once I figured them out).”
A great mentor is more than just a cheerleader; they must also be willing to challenge the mentee by asking the hard questions required for growth. On too many occasions to count, Patti has made me think and evaluate the hard questions about what I want to do and how to accomplish my goals (once I figured them out). To say I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable trying something new is an understatement, I have a tendency to worry about others’ interpretation of my programs and articles. However, with each win I also learned to share those with others and always think of my mentors and how they helped shape me at this place in life. I have shared many phone calls and Zoom meetings.
Dental hygiene has been made to feel like a solitary profession; many are the only hygienist in their practice and often feel isolated. The truth is there are many great networking opportunities, including dental conferences, that bring professionals together with the opportunity to meet some of the greatest minds in the industry. Dental hygiene is more than just dental hygiene; there are so many great minds that have a particular expertise and are willing to help another. Whether it is in dental sleep medicine, oral-systemic links, myofunctional therapy or a perio-queen, most of us have something to offer to others. Students are often paired with a more “seasoned” hygienist to learn some of the tips and tricks of the profession. A clinical mentor may encourage everything from talking with patients to clinical techniques. There are no limits to what a mentor can help with.
I still connect with my mentors and in turn have been able to give back to their causes. As Patti grew her Beyond Oral Health business, I was able to present mastermind sessions on various topics and help raise brand awareness within my own dental circle. Not only was I able to give back with course content for Beyond Oral Health, it was mutually beneficial to building my own speaking career; and I’m thankful to Patti for including me with the opportunity. It afforded me the opportunity to become involved in other aspects outside the clinical operatory, including the Dental Coding Consortium. A large part of being a mentee is the appreciation and taking constructive suggestions as they apply.
As we grow and evolve as individuals and professionals, you may meet people through stages of life that leave an impact and potentially change the trajectory of your life or career. Whether a chance meeting or sought-out introduction, the ability to have a mentor who becomes a friend can alter and change your journey for the better. Open your heart and hands to others to make a change.