January is National Mentoring Month, and January 26 is Thank Your Mentor Day. And while every single mentor engages with a person whose development they care about without any expectation of a thank you, I know that there is an infinite amount of satisfaction that comes from hearing that you’ve touched someone’s life in a meaningful way, even years after you last interacted. Mentoring allows you to pay it forward.

My mentors over the years have been varied. My second grade teacher immediately saw my Latinidad as an advantage. Periodically, she’d have me share Spanish translations and encouraged my love of reading. When a boy joined our school from Colombia, she volunteered to have me translate when the translator wasn’t available. Her confidence in me had such an impact on me at such a young age.

Then there was the high school teacher who I never had in class but who always reached out to me. She had a quote on her door that so struck me I stopped one day between class change, amidst the teeming crowds in the hallway, and wrote it down.

We too often love things and use people when we should use things and love people.

My senior year, when my overactivity led me to too-low a body weight, she grabbed me from the hallway and pulled me into her classroom. “You can’t do this to yourself,” she insisted.

I hadn’t realized that I was losing weight, and her kind attention brought my focus back to myself. With her intervention, I made every effort to get to a healthy body weight before I started college. Now, in the line of work I do, I am ever aware of how intervention saved me. And most days, that quote on her door cycles through my mind.

Then there was my high school student activities director, whose confidence in me allowed me to gain some great skills at a young age. His most common adage was “If a student can do it, an adult shouldn’t.” His faith in me became transitive, and led to my own faith in me. His style also influenced how I taught, coached and advised when I became an educator.

In college, I had two mentors: the director of my college scholarship showed me how to engage in the community in a meaningful but not patronizing way. My academic advisor championed me when what I wanted to study was so out of the box it made some academics on campus uncomfortable.

Today, the woman who lives around the corner from me serves as a compelling example of enthusiasm, compassion, and community-mindedness. I love her heart and wish I could make people feel the way she does. Every time I am with her, I come away wiser and more hopeful.

These six are just some of the people I try to emulate when I am out in the world in my various roles. I want people to understand how special they are. I want them to feel seen, to be heard, to be inspired to grow in the way that makes the most sense for them, to live their passion and purpose the way that I was encouraged to do so. My mentors shaped who I am today and, in many ways, their lessons live on in me.

In celebration of my mentors and what they’ve offered to me, I’ll be crafting personal thank-you notes to my mentors this week, and I want to encourage you to do the same.

Daunted by writing such a note? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Don’t so psych yourself out that you go silent and decide against writing the note. A note of any length will have profound meaning to your mentor. It doesn’t matter what your writing skills are. This is definitely one of those times where it is the thought that counts.
  • Spend a little time remembering your mentor and what you learned. Can you recall one particular story or lesson that might touch your mentor?
  • Get started. If you can find a mailing address, send a handwritten note, but, if not, use social media or email to reach out to your mentor. In your note, thank your mentor, recall a particular lesson or story, and then focus on what you have taken from your time with your mentor. Finally, briefly let your mentor know what and how you are doing today.

Have you had a mentor who informed or transformed your life? What did you learn from your mentor? Do you mentor anyone now? What gifts has mentoring given you?