“Why advertising? Are you gay?” This was the response my 14-year-old self received after telling my neighbour I was thinking of working in advertising. It was only rhetorical. There was no malice in his words, in fact they were said almost comically as part of the standard line of inquiry most ‘adults’ seem to follow when you mention anything to do with study: “What do you want to do when you finish?” he’d asked first.
Ironically, he’d just fixed our family computer so that I could submit my application for what would later become my first ‘proper’ job at Target! I didn’t count the paper run, babysitting, or the Cadbury chocolate stand my brothers and I had set up on our street nearly a decade earlier.
He and his wife worked in IT. He told me about what he had studied in high school and how that had informed his choices at university. He said that that had landed him a job at some big software company so that he could buy the house next door. In that brief exchange he had indicated his benchmark of success and the journey he had taken to get there.
My mother had sent me to give him oranges from our tree out back, and we spoke until the elastic from the heavy bag began to cut into my hand and I lost interest. I was 14 after all. The discussion with my neighbour, however brief, went in part to informing some of my future choices. His advice did not go unheeded. Although the ‘gay’ flash grenade which had gone off in my head meant I never mentioned a career in advertising again. Such is the consequence of subtle prejudice and internalised homophobia.
Seeking advice throughout life is essential for growth. Advice comes from all over. Some is good. Some is bad. Most is somewhere in between. But all advice is useless unless it’s acted upon. That’s where a mentor comes in. A mentor gives more than advice. By sharing their lived experience – their successes and their failures – they offer perspective, guidance, encouragement and accountability.
A professional mentor is a subject matter expert, skills coach, career consultant and critic (yes, constructive criticism is important) all rolled into one. They can help you build those ‘soft skills’ everyone keeps talking about, navigate the unknown, or guide you towards a solution you might never have thought of. Most importantly, they can challenge complacency and inspire action.
I am not advocating that you should only have an LGBTIQ mentor. In fact, I am not advocating that you should only have one mentor. Maybe you have already found a great mentor. They challenge you. They inspire you. They motivate you. That’s great. But no single person has the answers to every problem. Find and nurture a diverse ‘board of mentors’ and you have the next best thing.
As an LGBTIQ young person, however, chances are that you have had very few or limited access to LGBTIQ role models – let alone one-on-one mentoring – after all, very few of us grew up with LGBTIQ parents, older-siblings, coaches or teachers. They are some of the most important mentors we carry through life. Relatability is an important factor when building the kind of rapport necessary to allow us to reveal our vulnerabilities. We need to feel comfortable sharing the challenges we face if we are going to set goals to overcome them.
A professional mentor can talk of their lived experience of LGBTIQ inclusion within their workplace and industry. They will be able to connect you with other LGBTIQ people from their network, across multiple industries and workplaces, who can provide a similar insight. As I’ve said before, being LGBTIQ doesn’t define you, but it is a part of you. And therefore, just like any part of you, it has needs too. Having an LGBTIQ mentor just lets you know that ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, applies to you too. They’re relatable.
Well, if you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer student or young professional then Out for Australia has made finding a mentor a little bit easier for you. Out for Australia will match you with an experienced LGBTIQ professional who can help you define and work towards your goals over a 12-month period.
Their pool of mentors is expanding, so if you can’t find a suitable mentor from their existing pool then they will help you find one. Make sure you tell them what you are looking for. They also run workshops and networking events as part of the program. It’s free. So why not sign up and find your mentor today! Can you tell I volunteer with Out for Australia?
If you have suffered hardship as a consequence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer then the Pinnacle Foundation provides financial and mentoring support so that you can achieve your full potential.
I have been involved with Out for Australia and its mentoring program for over three years. The resounding piece of advice from mentors, speakers and role models at events has been:
It is as simple as that. It’s not a strategy for identifying a mentor but it is a call to action. Once you identify a potential mentor you need to gather up the courage to ask them.
Here are some more strategies for finding a mentor:
Hopefully by now you have realised that life is one big classroom with daily tests and an absent teacher. As soon as you accept the reality of life-long learning, the easier life will be. Remember, there’s a world of knowledge out there, so what are you waiting for?
Nathaniel is a Juris Doctor student at Macquarie University who volunteers with Out for Australia, a national not-for-profit helping LGBTIQ students and young professionals navigate the early stages of their careers. Personal pronouns: he, his, him.