# 2 Sounding Boards and Mentors Make the Job So Much Easier
Oodles have been written on mentors and mentorship. “Everyone should have one” is the standard advice. “You cannot succeed without one” is another mantra.
Yes, it is nice to have mentorship. But the role of “the mentor” does not have to be filled by one person. In fact, it is almost impossible for one person to do the job completely. Not to belittle the enormous efforts of my main mentor, he could simply not have the experience or knowledge to help me work through all the situations that I have encountered.
Being a mentor and having a mentor can be difficult, especially if you rely on one person, and especially if you confine your search to your career environment. So I suggest that you have a stable of confidants, sounding boards, and mentors, so that you can speak frankly and listen with confidence at the observations and sometimes useful advice that will come your way.
Many of our mentors are older, more experienced colleagues who are there to steer us through the unknown waters of career development. Each one has a point of view and usually an agenda, even if hidden, unspoken or denied. No problem there. Learn about who that person is and what she/he values both professionally and personally so you can place their advice in the proper context in regards to your values. Getting into someone else’s head, usually a supervisor or seasoned colleague, can be very difficult, not to mention hazardous if the relationship has not been steeled by decades of growth or transformed to one of equality.
So where else can you go to get the type of give and take you need? This takes a bit more creativity, and a heck of a lot of trust. That’s where sounding boards come in.
“Sounding Board” in Merriam-Webster (definition #3): “A person or group on whom one tries out an idea or opinion as a means of evaluating it.” The key to this concept is that the idea that is being tried out is from you, the seeker of your own thoughts and feelings. And the person evaluating it is also you! The sounding board is merely the person who reflects back to you so you can hear what you are saying and thinking. It is someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing with, who will let the ideas resonate in the space between you, and will reflect back to you through honest discourse.
Key characteristics for sounding boards:
- Mutual trust—revealing doubts, conflicts and confusion makes good fodder for later conflicts. Be wise and be careful.
- Maturity—reflecting a seeker’s thoughts means letting go of their own. That takes maturity.
- Mindfulness—seeming careful, attentive and heedful of what is being said and why. Time, flexibility and patience are helpful.
In other words, someone who will forget what was said, will keep their own ego out of it, and will be attentive and careful as to your feelings and sensibilities. Another tall order? Yup. Most of us have friends and family, co-workers or co-religionists who can come with us on our own journey. They key here is that no one person has to or is likely to be the sounding board for all the questions and conflicts you are feeling about such important decisions. One might be great for your family issues, another for you to gather the courage you need to take the next step. Still another might understand you and your often conflicting needs.
Where the sounding board differs from the mentor is that he/she does not have to know too much about your career per se. It’s more about you. And that means you taking a risk on revealing your insecurities, your questions, your inner thoughts and doubts to someone else. That’s hard for us “I did this really hard thing becoming a doctor on my own, I can do this, too.” Wrong. You will be better off with help.
Your dream job is not likely to just come your way. But if you look carefully inside yourself and know what you want and what you have in the way of mentors and soundboards, you are more likely find what you want, get what you want, because you know what you want. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into your career dreams and creating your ideal job.
Ask Linda is a forum in which you can pose questions of interest about women in today’s world. Though I am first and foremost an “expert” on the gender gap for women in medicine (physicians and patients alike), I am prepared to answer other relevant questions about medicine, the challenges women face in life and parenting. If I do not know the answer, I will try to find someone who can. Ask Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.