Learning Is A Two-Way Street

“Would you be willing to have a student intern?”

“I really would love to have you as a mentor, would you consider it?”

“Could my son/daughter/sister/friend spend a few days and shadow you and some of your staff?”

There is no shortage of requests for experience, information or guidance as individuals of all ages try to find their career paths. And it is always tempting to think that you are too busy or too stretched or too stressed or too overwhelmed to find that extra time or energy, but the reality is that each of these opportunities is as much a benefit for the “teacher” as for the “student.”

There is no question that students benefit from “real world” exposure, helping them to define career choices and, equally important, to rule out directions that, once experienced, are not a good fit. As well, some fields, like older adult services, have neither the glamor nor the familiarity that might cause someone to choose that as their career focus. Yet, spending time in that environment may help a young person to see the wonderful richness of working with older adults and the gifts that working in that environment can bring every day.

Many students begin with a bit of fear or discomfort working with older adults, uncertain about those with physical or cognitive impairments, saddled perhaps with some of the ageism that is far too prevalent in our society. As they work with our population and understand the uniqueness of each individual and their ability to touch them and connect with them, regardless of their limitations, it is an attitude-changing, and perhaps even life-changing, moment.

As supervisors, mentors or teachers, there is great benefit to sharing that attitude change, for it helps to refresh our own sense of connection to our field. Watching someone discover what we discovered long ago can refresh us and remind us why we made the professional choices we did. We can experience this freshness and energy in a way that recharges us as well.

Beyond that initial energy, however, the presence of a student offers us great learning. The questions we are asked give us a chance to reflect more deeply on that which we take for granted. The ideas that are presented provide us with the opportunity to look at things with a new viewpoint. As we move through our careers, we develop both our style and our repertoire. We know who we are, what has worked for us and what has not. If we open ourselves to it, having a student ask us questions and make suggestions can open us up to new thoughts and renewed professional growth.

In organizations of all sizes, behavior sets and norms develop—that is just an inevitable part of working in those settings. That is not always a negative; it allows us to work as teams and to understand one another. But a fresh perspective, provided by someone who is not only new to the field but also focused on his or her own learning, can offer insights that are of tremendous value.

As professionals in whatever field, as individuals who are also interested in our own personal growth, our learning can never stop. New ideas, new directions, new perspectives are vital to ensure that we optimize our own careers and contributions. What easier way than to allow a student into our world—to give them access to what we do and who we are and to encourage them to ask questions, share ideas and observations.

Most of us take great pride in what we do, in what we have built during the course of our professional lives. Yet the daily pressures of difficult decisions, challenging situations and managing people and resources, can cause us, at times, to be trapped in the never-ending tasks or in the crisis du jour. When we step back and introduce our environment to someone new to our industry and to our organization, it renews our energy and passion, reinvigorates us and refreshes that pride that, while always there, is sometimes tucked away.

The students we coach and assist express gratitude for us but, in truth, we would be hard pressed to determine who the beneficiary of this experience truly is.

Carol Silver Elliott is CEO/President of Cedar Village Retirement Community. You may also enjoy this piece by the intern at Cedar Village, Iah Pillsbury.

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