Mentor's Magic10 mins 211 10 mins 211
It was a bright and sunny day in Shenzhen, China Mainland. Chaitra kept pacing up and down the stairs. A few assumed she was taking short breaks amidst work; some others thought she must be going around for work. In actual, Chaitra was beating stress. She had to wait for a few hours before she could meet her mentor, who was also her manager- Yu Yan Ma’am. Until then, she would continue feeling uneasy.
Shenzhen is a beautiful and rapidly growing city in the Guangdong Province in China – it was Chaitra’s first ever overseas trip. It was a business trip; she was the youngest in a team of 8 who had been given an opportunity to undergo rigorous training and internship at the company’s headquarters albeit in the very first quarter of her joining the company. Chaitra’s parents and her sister were incredibly happy and proud of her. She came with very many hopes and a multitude of inhibitions too.
On the day she had arrived in Shenzhen, Chaitra participated in the monthly birthday party that had coincidentally fallen on that day. When she met Yu Yan Ma’am for the very first time, she reminded Chaitra of her own mother. At that instant, Chaitra knew that her relationship with Yu Yan Ma’am had to be special. You don’t feel like that every day. It was as if all her long-held insecurities at once disappeared, thanks to Ma’am’s way of talking, treating Chaitra and making her feel at home. Days passed and weeks flew by as well, Chaitra developed utmost respect for her mentor who had guided her in picking up trainer skills, inspired her to become a thorough professional and strengthened her to face any challenge readily.
At the moment, Chaitra felt profound guilt. In spite of having someone of Yu Yan Ma’am‘s stature agreeing to mentor a newcomer, Chaitra felt that she had belittled her mentor’s hard work. Chaitra had clearly underperformed in her first presentation- she felt a sort of commotion in her head. She had failed to leave a mark on the expert panel; Chaitra feared an impasse to follow.
Chaitra still continued walking up and down the stairs; for a change, she went to the toilet about three times. Nothing relieved her except when she saw Yu Yan Ma’am wave at her with a bright smile. Chaitra lurched forward. It was past 7 PM and Yu Yan Ma’am had finished her day-long meetings as well as her early dinner. She ushered Chaitra to a little corner in the building. Chaitra had never explored this part of the magnificent building.
“People come here to have a rest, post lunch. The furniture is soft and comforting. The view is soothing. Sometimes, there is slow music played too. ”
As if all the optimism translated to Chaitra’s state of being, it immediately changed her emotions. Surprisingly, Chaitra was not fumbling with her hands or meddling with her hair anymore.
“So, Chaitra. Ahh, hope I pronounced it right? I like your name. Did you have your dinner? I believe you and your Indian friends prefer late dinner unlike us, isn’t it? I bought an apple and a nutbar just for you. “
“Thank you, ma’am.” Chaitra nodded imperceptibly understanding that it wasn’t merely the environment set up that made a difference but the person sitting across her. Yu Yan Ma’am displayed a calm demeanor and her expression of concern for Chaitra’s hunger pangs impressed on Chaitra that indeed her mentor is more like an angel and not merely like a manager. (She often described Yu Yan Ma’am as an angel to her parents, grandparents, sister, her whole family and friends)
“Now, tell me. Relax. So, I hear the presentation did not go as you expected or hoped for, isn’t it.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t know what exactly happened. I got too nervous. I have delivered the exact topic for about 2 weeks but on the D-day, I completely lost confidence. Initially, I did not seem to be anxious. As soon as one question after another was asked, even though I very well knew the answer, I grappled hard to express it. Is it the sort of fear that’s a natural consequence of an expert asking it- I cannot fathom that bit yet! I frequently mopped the sweat on my face. My hands were wet. I gave up much before the final slide, Ma’am.”
Yu Yan Ma’am did not interrupt at all. She listened patiently with her eyes fixed on Chaitra; she nodded gently at points where she seemed to have already gathered some data.”
“Hmm, firstly, Chaitra. Thank you for sharing all this with me. I truly feel bad that I was not next to you on the first presentation day. My fault.”
Chaitra could not disagree more. She vehemently opposed that explanation.
“Chaitra, I have seen how diligent you are in your work. More than that, you are a very honest and sincere girl. Sometimes, we do not know how good we are. We think of ourselves as not the best version yet and end up making mistakes in the process of learning. While it is great to be a self-critic, it is also essential that we know that we are pretty good and skilled, especially in your case, when you are exceptional in training delivery. I see you going great guns, my dear. You need “faith” in yourself.”
“All the talent in the world and all the scores of opportunities make complete sense when you have faith in yourself, Chaitra. Each of us has our flaws. They are inevitable. If we focus on the flaws in the light of the day, the real beauty will never get a chance to surface itself. Your genuine talent will remain in an undisturbed dark corner. Instead, we must work on our flaws in “darkness” while our true potential never leaves our company. Someday, all the hours of slogging will turn your flaws into strengths.”
Chaitra had an effusive smile on her face.
“Whenever you want to develop a skill, explore something anew, pursuit a passion, it takes time. Hundreds or even thousands of hours. You must wait. Every attempt at betterment must not feel like you have never met the goal. That it might not just happen. Having a well-defined goal is, of course, the quintessential ingredient for success. Nevertheless, excessive obsession with a “specific result” could deter your chances of reaching the best you can be. After all, there is always more than what meets the eye.”
Chaitra’s all day wait proved more than worthy. She was grateful to the Universe and almighty for engaging her with such an impactful person like Yu Yan Ma’am.
“Do not worry, Chaitra. We both will work for your journey. Remember, I know that you are a powerhouse of talent and hungry for work. Tomorrow, let us meet up for a short presentation on the same topic you delivered. ”
Chaitra thanked Ma’am profusely.
“I have been meaning to ask you, Chaitra. How is your family? Do you talk to them often?”
“Oh yes, Ma’am. I speak to them twice every day. We make video calls.”
“Lovely! Tell them my Namaste (she gestured). And, how about your food here?”
“Am a vegetarian. So, yeah it is a limited menu compared to a non-vegetarian’s diverse endless list.”
“Oh, I must tell you this. Being different can actually be a huge advantage in life. For example, you see, if you are a vegetarian here in China, you might get stares and people would assume you miss out on the “most important” bit of experience. I beg to differ though. You get to see from a different perspective. You will enjoy experimenting in a whole new way that is unpopular and rare; you will have access to the unobvious; your experiences of surviving as a vegetarian will help you weave motivational tales around efforts that are not tried by many.”
With that thought in mind, Chaitra left for the day. She had the most peaceful sleep in a long time.
The next day, Chaitra was present in the huge hall called “Room No 8.” It was the largest conference hall; Yu-Yan Ma’am had booked it the night before. She had completed the room booking after dropping off Chaitra at her residence.
Chaitra was determined to do her best. She set up the projector. Kept her handout and marker ready. She quickly rushed out and glanced at herself in the washroom mirror and rushed back to the hall before Ma’am could arrive with the judges.
“Good morning, darling. “
“Good morning, Ma’am.”
“Wow. Nice set –up.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“All set, Chaitra?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Here are the evaluation sheets Ma’am.”
“Thank you, dear.”
“So, let me tell you, Chaitra. Nobody is arriving in here. It will be just me. This will be your final presentation on this topic. Here is your evaluation from my end.”
Chaitra had a jolt. She looked at the sheets handed out to her. She was surprised. “100% marks!”
“Chaitra, the full marks are my assessment of your knowledge and training skills that I have been a witness to. The specific goal of achieving an excellent score is done. Now, you should get better than that. ”
“Therefore, today’s session will concentrate on working in the “dark” on your flaws.” Yu Yan Ma’am announced much to the perplexion of Chaitra.
“I would like you to imagine there is a house full of people in here. Everyone is here, okay – People you like; People you hate; People you are scared of; People who you love very much; People who you don’t care about. Everyone!”
As if it does not end there, Yu Yan Ma’am turned the room into an almost dark one. She switched off all the lights. Projector light was the only respite. She then chose to sit in a random corner.
Chaitra had never imagined this set-up at all. So, Yu Yan Ma’am will actually help me work on my flaws in the dark? She murmured to herself. She seemed to like the creative and distinct approach that Yu Yan Ma’am was unfolding.
“Chaitra, your time starts now. Whenever you are ready, I am ready. Please begin your presentation. Brace yourself. Questions are going to be hard. But of course, please know that I am with you on your journey.”
Chaitra gave one of the best presentations of her life. When the toughest questions were thrown at her, she still seemed to answer them excellently. After a bit, Yu Yan Ma’am challenged her in all sorts of ways by twisting and paraphrasing her questions. Chaitra’s progress saw no deterrence. She was evidently enjoying the questionnaire onslaught. The mentor-mentee duo celebrated the moment.
“Ahh, you love the dark, Chaitra?” Yu Yan Ma’am joked.
They had a lovely walk later in the afternoon followed by a sumptuous Chinese meal.
Post that day, Chaitra went on to become one of the best known and well-appreciated trainers in the company with a wonderful track record. She won accolades for tirelessly working with exceptional results.
There was no looking back. Time flew. In her personal and professional life, Chaitra always reassured herself each time she faltered. If she failed miserably at something, she would need to dissect the issue and understand her shortcomings. She would need to work hard “in the dark (in Ma’am’s own words) “for hours, days, weeks, years or more. In darkness (working with dedication in silence without making a hue about it), she was all by herself. Nobody was watching her. She could learn, unlearn, experiment, make mistakes, scream, sob, try and try and try until she succeeded. She would never give up.
Chaitra built her self-confidence and the potential to handle any challenge.
Yu Yan Ma’am became and remains an angel in Chaitra’s life. A mentor has a great responsibility in a mentee’s life. It goes beyond a set-expectation on paper. It is indeed for a lifetime. The two went on to live in 2 different countries and in almost opposite time zones too. Nothing changed though between the two.
On a spring morning, a decade later, Chaitra saw someone at a café. She looked absolutely like Yu Yan Ma’am. Of course, it wasn’t Yu Yan Ma’am. But, Chaitra could not hold her tears back. She runs back home to call Yu Yan Ma’am and share this personal anecdote. The two had kept in touch religiously all this while for the love for one another.
“About time we met?” Yu Yan Ma’am said.
“Ohhhh Yessss.” Chaitra was over the moon.