Giving Back for Good Mentoring
This is the first semester in many years that I have not had an intern from Westfield State University or the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It is odd. Part of what I miss is telling them stories.
Inevitably, interns make little goofs and mistakes here and there, and my response is always to offer them a course correction and a bit of advice—and a tale that will help them feel less silly and inexperienced.
I have a few stories up my sleeve for this purpose, all based on my own goofs and mistakes; each has its own moral.
I realized I should offer these stories up via my blog because it’s good for all of us to remember that we are always learning, and the anecdotes are also good for a laugh.
When I see interns who have confidence issues, I sit them down and let them know what I see as their strong suits and the skills they bring to the table. I tell them they need to trust themselves and work on mining their self-assurance. I say I had a serious lack of faith in myself when I was in college, and I tell this story:
I was a senior at Westfield State College. It was 1985, and I had spent the semester working at what was then called the Springfield Morning Union. (This paper later became the Union-News when it merged with the Springfield Daily News and later became what we know today as the Springfield Republican.)
My journalism professor, the late and fabulous Dave Humphrey, had arranged the internship for me and well-guided me in my four months in the Living department, where I wrote wedding and engagement announcements and also wrote a few feature stories.
Dave was the assistant managing editor at the Morning Union. One day, he told me that a man named Tom Haggerty would be calling me. Dave didn’t explain that Tom was an important guy, then the paper’s managing editor, and he didn’t tell me that Tom was going to offer me a job.
So, I’m in my on-campus apartment one afternoon, and Tom calls me. He offers me a part-time correspondent job covering Granby and South Hadley. I felt he might as well have asked me to climb Mount Everest or orbit the moon.
I said, “Oh, thank you so much, but I don’t think I’d be very good at that.”
There was an awkward pause on Tom’s end. We made polite small talk, and then he said thank you, and we hung up.
When I saw Dave next, he hollered to me from down the hall in Bates, an academic building I had many of my classes in at Westfield State.
“Beetle. In my office,” he said.
Dave gestured for me to sit, and I did.
“Did Tom Haggerty call you?” he asked me. He was clearly in a snit.
“Yes,” I said.
“Did he offer you a job?” he asked.
“Did you say no?”
“Yes,” I repeated.
“You’re an asshole,” he said.
Dave explained that I had spent four years preparing for such a job and that I was a qualified candidate and a good writer. I did not know this.
“What you’re going to do,” he said, “is you’re going to call Tom back. You’re going to tell him you’d be a great reporter and that you would be ecstatic to have the opportunity to work for the Springfield Morning Union.”
“Okay,” I said. And I called Tom back, and I got the job, and here I am today, very thankful that someone had my back so long ago. I honestly can’t say where I would be without Dave and his faith in me and my abilities. He was right. I was a good reporter. I was fast and accurate, and I had compassion.
I wish Dave were still alive, so I could take him out for a drink or a cup of coffee and thank him for being a good mentor and guide and tell him what that support has meant to me. Instead, what I can do is try to also be a good mentor and guide myself.