Pivot!’s Rachel Murray interviews DWG’s Nancy and Shimrit on their mentoring relationship

July 27, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2022

Rachel Murray is a writer, careers mentor and founder of Pivot! Newsletter, and in 2020 she interviewed DWG’s Shimrit Janes (Director of Knowledge) and Nancy Goebel (Managing Director, Member Services) on the special mentoring relationship that has emerged between them over recent years, as part of a mentoring series for readers of her career-change focused newsletter.

[Rachel] Hi Shimrit! How did you find your current career mentor?

She’s actually my line manager! We met when I was freelancing for DWG (I’m now employed by them), not as mentor/mentee but through our day-to-day work. So, we’ve known each other for about seven years now. Even though she lives in New Jersey, US – and we didn’t meet face to face for a good few years – there was something between us that meant we connected quickly and which meant I felt safe and supported, even though most of our relationship is remote.

What was your original aim for seeking mentoring?

I’d been freelancing for around five years (and enjoying the freedom and independence of it) before I was offered an employed position with DWG. About eight months in I realized I still had a lot of latent confidence and Imposter Syndrome issues, particularly related to feeling more ‘junior’. They’d always been there, but I had ignored them while freelancing; it’s really hard to find the confidence to admit you don’t have confidence when you’re relying on people wanting to buy your services.

I realized the issues could potentially become harmful, especially related to fear of being assertive and challenging others’ ideas (despite DWG’s culture of supporting this). I also had several other questions, such as trying to work out what I really enjoyed doing, which I wanted help with. Nancy felt like a natural option, and I worked up the courage to ask her formally if she’d be interested in mentoring me. Thankfully, she said yes…!

How long have you been working together and how has your relationship changed over that time?

Just over three years. It feels like it’s become deeper and, in a sense, more ‘equal’, even though we’re still mentor/mentee. We’ve spoken about some hard things together and Nancy has always been honest in sharing that she also benefits from our sessions; she’ll sometimes bring her own challenges into the space, and we talk them through together. The focus is still generally the challenges I’m facing, but it feels good to be able to return the favour!

Would you say your aims have shifted? If yes, how?

At the two-year mark, I took the time to reflect on how I’d progressed and what I wanted to focus on next. Taking that time meant realizing that a lot of my confidence issues had been addressed, for example.

As a result, I realized I wanted to shift my focus to two areas:

  • trying to become more strategic in my work and contribution to the company; and
  • taking the confidence I’d developed inside the company to try and feel comfortable with having a presence externally in our industry.

The latter felt terrifying for a whole host of reasons. But it’s important for women to be able to be vocal in external professional spaces, despite and because of the many challenges associated with this, and I wanted to see if I could build the confidence to find and add my voice.

Tell me about the benefits (both expected and unexpected) you have experienced from mentoring?

The first huge one has been working on my confidence! This still bubbles up, but I’m far better equipped to deal with it now, and to quiet ‘the internal chatter’, as Nancy calls it. As a result, I’ve been able to get involved with some interesting and challenging projects at work; for example, [in 2019] I was asked to co-author a book with our CEO. We’re in the final stages before it goes to print, and there’s no way I would have been able to deal with the logistical and ‘doubt’ stresses that come with that if I hadn’t done the work with Nancy, as well as had her support throughout. I’ve still had my moments – there’s nothing like writing a book to make you doubt yourself – but knowing I have that space with her has been a great help.

What’s been unexpected for me is how I just feel so much more myself, both in work and outside of it. The knock-on effect for my work and personal relationships has been enormous.

And also, the relationship with Nancy. I travelled to New York back in January (pre-COVID; was that trip really in 2020!) to participate in a workshop, and spent the weekend with her and her family at their lovely home. Being invited into that personal space and feeling so at home straight away was perfect.

How do you make the most out of your sessions (e.g. action points)?

We always joke that we have no idea how each session is going to go and what’s going to come up; they’re often quite ‘emergent’! Because we have ‘work’-focused catch-ups and meetings all the time, the mentoring sessions give the space to dig a little deeper and get under what’s going on beneath my current workload. It means I need to take the time to think about what to bring into our sessions, but things will always come up that neither of us had planned to talk about.

Before each call, I think about what challenges I’m currently facing that I want help with, reflect on how things are going and how I’m feeling at that moment. We meet once a month for an hour, so there’s enough time between each session. I take notes throughout the session in a rolling document, which means I can go back to reflect on insights from Nancy as well as any resources that have been mentioned or action points to follow up on.

What’s been your favourite part of the mentoring experience?

The impact it’s had! I think about how I feel today compared to how I felt before we started, and the difference is huge. It’s just created so many opportunities for me and made me a happier person overall.

And also, ultimately, the relationship that Nancy and I have developed. Through our sessions, we’ve developed something so much more like a close friendship, where both personal and professional joys, hardships, challenges and more can be shared by both of us without fear. It’s made collaborating together on projects fun; we can literally co-work in a document at the same time without speaking and somehow know what the other is thinking. And it’s made having what can sometimes be hard conversations, around a whole range of issues, easy.

What’s been the most difficult part?

Definitely being open and ready to hear potentially uncomfortable truths that are shared ‘with love’ to help you address them. It’s almost similar to having therapy; you need to be in a place where you’re ready to listen without getting defensive, and it needs to be a safe enough space that’s created in the relationship that means those ‘truths’ can be shared and received constructively.

Finally, what key pieces of advice would you give to someone looking for a mentor?

  1. Be ready to be honest, with yourself and with them  You need to really know what you want to get out of it, at least to start with; otherwise, you’ll be wasting both your own and their time. You’ve made the choice to be mentored because you know you need support with something, and that works best if you go in ready to be honest.
  2. Don’t go in half-hearted – If you really want to get the most out of it, be ready to take the time to reflect, think about what challenges you’re facing, put what you’re hearing into practice, and be an active participant. Nancy won’t give me answers or spoon-feed me; she’ll listen to me and then share insights, stories, resources, ask challenging questions. It’s a two-way relationship.
  3. Keep a record of your sessions – Once you’ve found your mentor, make notes in whatever way works best for you. I have a Google Doc where I’ve got notes from all of our sessions, covering for each one what I wanted to bring up, what Nancy shared, and any ‘light bulb’ moments. This not only helps me process what’s being shared in each session, but means I effectively have a journal of my progress since our first session. That can be a powerful artefact to go back over.
  4. If you’re freelance or thinking about it, definitely get a mentor! – If I’d had someone I trusted to be honest with during those five years, to help with the many challenges that come with freelancing instead of just pretending all was okay, who knows what progress I would have made!

Thank you, Shimrit. Over to you, Nancy!

For the last three years, I’ve had the honour and privilege of being one of Shimrit’s mentors and she has become one of mine. It all started with the suggestion of a monthly check-in call over a virtual coffee. The idea behind these calls was to set aside some time for us to catch up outside of formal meeting agendas. Because we didn’t have the luxury of working alongside each other in an office setting, it was important for us to create a human connection, without a structured business agenda or client deliverable driving the conversation.

Early on, the conversations centred around Shimrit’s professional development. Over time a natural shift occurred. We created a shared, confidential space where anything goes – a professional struggle, a challenging interaction with a colleague, a work–life blurring, a social justice connection to the workplace, a ‘secret’ ambition, an unanswered question about our industry’s trajectory, etc.

What makes our time together so powerful? Shimrit and I have discovered that we have so much in common. One might even say that we act as mirrors for each other. We understand what makes the other tick and have a natural empathy factor. With time, confidence and trust, these calls evolved into mentoring sessions… for both of us. How did we get there? When we meet, the time we share is a gift from one to the other and back. There is no hidden agenda; only a fresh opportunity for us to:

  1. Listen to what is top of mind for each other – Active listening is key. It promotes trust and respect; it also promotes a better understanding of one another.
  2. Bring critical thinking to each other – Having another mind that is not tied to the emotional charge behind a given topic allows for us to quickly explore the whys behind it and establish a root cause.
  3. Translate our fears into a leap of courage – The difference between a worrier and a warrior is that the former is preoccupied with the chatter that comes with fear. The warrior uses that fear to face a challenging situation and turns it into an opportunity. Our conversations are a safe space to help translate fear into the courage to act.
  4. Channel the positive – On any given day, either one of us could be tired, stressed or frustrated. Calls like ours give us a chance to reflect, recentre and return to a flow-like and energized state. Put another way, misery loves company but positivity can be contagious.
  5. Unlock a safe space to create – Mentoring is not about training or giving answers. It’s about sharing experiences as a way to translate our learnings into a solutions framework.

Thank you both for sharing your experiences!

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