be like eleanor – women helping women

Over the weekend I watched the series “First Ladies” on SBS. As the title suggests, it’s a documentary that highlights six wives of American Presidents; the different ways they filled their roles and the impact that resulted.

Amongst all the amazing humanitarian, peace keeping and world changing causes the various women gave their powerful voice and influence to – there was one incident in the story of Eleanor Roosevelt that struck me profoundly.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest serving First Lady as her husband, President Franklin D Roosevelt, was in office for four terms (1933-1945). Out of office her list of accomplishments continued to grow – she appears to have been a remarkable woman – aware of her influence and privilege and determined to use it on behalf of those with less.

One action she took when she first became First Lady was to hold her own daily press conferences. Due to her husband’s illness and her seemingly infatigable capacity and passion, she was an incredibly active part of the Roosevelt presidential reign. The American and global press were keen to know her daily movements and the causes she was involved in. So, she agreed to daily access for the press. However, she only allowed female reporters into the room.

At the time, women were excluded from the President’s press room and so she decided to make the opposite mandate for her own. As a result, news outlets were forced to hire female reporters if they didn’t want to fall behind on the news coming from the First Lady’s office.

What a glass ceiling shattering move! Whatever efforts were being made at the ground level to open doors for females in journalism at the time were instantaneously catapulted to a whole other level of opportunity and experience. Undoubtedly, it changed the landscape for women in journalism from that time forward. It was only 10 years earlier that the American Constitution was amended to give women equal rights to men. This was an incredibly progressive act that had immeasurable immediate and ongoing ramifications.

This right here is how to use your platform. This is what it means to be aware of your privilege and influence. This is what it looks like to recognise that when you get an opportunity it doesn’t stop with you. This is what happens when use your power on behalf of others.

I wanted to stand up and applaud her (and I might have were I not so comfortably ensconced on my couch!)!! It’s women like her that have made a way for women like me … and it made me conscious again of the way we make for those coming after us.

Not only did Eleanor Roosevelt make it to the Whitehouse. She made sure her making it enabled others to make it also. This is true leadership. Another First Lady, Michelle Obama, elsewhere in the series says, “When you walk through the door of opportunity you don’t slam it shut behind you, you hold it open!”

I reflected again on the many who have held doors open for me in my lifetime. And those that did it for them to make that possible. It’s easy to become frustrated by the slow pace of change or the entrenched ideologies and practices that close doors or fortify them to be almost impossible to open. It can be disheartening. But I can do something. I can chock open a door. I can invite more people in. I can sponsor opportunity. I can use my voice – however singular it might be. I can create space. I can pull up a chair. I can be like Eleanor!

3 things to look for in a mentor

Everyone should have a mentor (read here – 3 reasons you need a mentor) but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly who you are looking for. Here are three characteristics I believe are worth considering.

Find someone who is successfully doing something you want to do successfully. 

Be it in business, parenting, leading, discipline, advocacy, finances, study, fitness or relationships – whatever you are hoping to grow in, develop or attain – your mentor should be demonstrating elements of that competency. They should be further down the path than you. They should have the wisdom to be able to assess and articulate how they came to be successful – a person who can’t describe what they did to bring them to their current stage of life, work, serving or character will not be able to teach or lead you to a similar destination.

Find someone who allows you close. 

A good mentor will let you understand something of their life – of the path they’ve walked and the context in which they’ve developed their character, beliefs and skills. Beyond what they might teach you from their learning and wisdom, a great mentor will allow the story of their life to bring application and a shared sense of journeying.

There should also be a degree to which the vulnerability you express to a mentor is honoured with their own vulnerability. The safety of such an environment will allow the relationship (and you) to flourish.

Realise you might need more than one someone. 
Because your life is diverse and you are likely to be engaged across a number of roles or circumstances it may be most beneficial to have more than one mentor rather than expect one person to meet all your needs. Across the journey I have had a variety of mentors – each leading and investing in me in particular areas. I have had mentors around communication and preaching, generations ministry, being a female in leadership and ministry, writing and publishing, leading at the next level, and those who are more invested in pastoral care of me.

Finding one person who can be all things to you might be unrealistic.

What would you add to this list? What have you found about your own efforts to have a mentor or as a mentor others?

in series 

// 3 reasons you need a mentor
// 3 reasons you should be a mentor