A Youthful Mentor I Didn't See Coming
On the tailend of National Women's History Month and feeling grateful for female friendships in general, I am sharing an essay I wrote a while ago in honor of my friend and podcast partner, Cara. She will be embarrassed by this, as we all tend to be by flattery, but nonetheless I want to share it. Adult friendships can be hard to cultivate. This essay reminds me to continue to be open because mentors (and friends) can enter your life when you least expect it.
I tend to seek advice and invite opinions from those with years exceeding or matching my own (i.e. my husband, parents, my tailor). It isn’t a deliberate pattern, but a common one. After all, those with a higher age number have more “life experience” (right?) making them better suited to bestow advice on grown-up stuff – relationships, careers, how to cook a turkey. At the dawn of my thirties, I sought a lot of advice as I shifted careers and my overall approach to work. However, a college student nine-years my junior was the mentor I didn’t know I needed.
Cara and I met in retail. I was twenty-nine. I canned my sports marketing career in Philadelphia, moved across the state, and accepted a retail job. All this was done to pursue writing. Cara was twenty and joined a retail team of a brand she admired (the discount wasn’t bad either, said the both of us). She was a junior at Duquesne University earning a B.S. in Business Administration all while co-founding a start-up business around tiny home vacationing.
We are not intergenerational, but it was obvious we lived on opposite sides of the Millennial spectrum. Early in our friendship while enjoying Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwiches (a delicacy necessary for enduring late nights at the mall), Cara yelled, "This is dank!" Taking in nonverbal cues, I figured she was enjoying the sandwich. The blank confusion on my face prompted her to explain the meaning of “dank.” This word, originally used to describe potent pot, was the latest version of "cool" describing anything, particularly food, of high quality. Soon, the words "on fleek" and "extra" entered my vocabulary to my husband's dread, and promptly exited within a week to my husband's relief. Despite falling in the Millennial net, I didn't possess a natural Millennial delivery.
Technology only further highlighted our differences. As a teenager, my tech interaction consisted of playing snake on my Nokia 6510 and SMS text messaging during off-school hours (our family plan allowed no more than 60 per month). Facebook entered my life as a sophomore in college and was simply an upgraded version of Webshots. Cara, on the other hand, thought limited text messaging was a plot from a bad horror flick. Facebook statuses (equivalent to my AIM away messages) were part of daily high school life and were injected with quotes with hidden messages. In college, Cara was snapping and tweeting before I knew the platforms had turned into verbs.
Despite our differences, a common thread connected us. Both of us were determined to mold our passions into operable careers (here is where our Millennial distinction harmonizes). We were equally inexperienced in our self-employment. Through our individual pursuits, a strong friendship formed. It was one of empathy and support. The newness of our connection provided safe ground. Honesty was easy. There were no preconceived images of who we were; and therefore, no limit to who we could be.
Time after time, Cara pried away the grips of doubt. She could turn my tears into laughter with a self-deprecating story about her latest Tinder date or my fear into faith with a quote from Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Cara reminded me of myself in my early twenties when I rebounded more quickly. Her relentless belief in my talent became my forming career's sixth man. When I was having an off-day, she jumped off the bench with an energy I could not help but match.
After three and a half years working retail, I left last September to freelance. Cara graduated college, was promoted to Assistant Manager, and is pursuing locations for Peregrinator's Paradise's prototype tiny vacation home. Her friendship and consultation continue to play a strong role in my development as a person, and a writer. In terms of years, I may have more experience than Cara, but her inexhaustible will was exactly the support I needed. That, and spicy chicken sandwiches.