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The Mentor I Didn’t Know I Needed

Word cloud in shape of leaf with mentor and mentorship as biggest words.

By Alyssia Bell, IDEC fellow


” A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey.


I was never a person that held a lot of hope in myself. I always thought that my path was written for me, where I could go was predetermined, and who I could be was decided. I felt that I could only be who others told me to be, what others planned for me to be. I never really sat down with myself and had an honest conversation about how I wanted my life to go. Nor did I ever think about the path I wanted to forge. The sky was never the limit for me; I couldn’t even see past the ceiling of the room I was in.

I went my entire life with this mindset, only being half as good, only trying half as hard. Molding my self-image into the image others wanted to see. Starting over and over and over again, never accomplishing anything. There was always something deeper in me, an inner voice that told me I could be better, I deserved better; why waste this potential? The problem was, I didn’t even know where to begin to make that inner voice my reality. In my mind, it would have taken something short of a miracle to help me find my way.

A miracle is exactly what I got. When applying to Increasing Diversity in Environmental Careers, IDEC for short, I saw that one aspect of the program was a mentorship. One would receive a year-long plus mentorship with a member from any of the three sponsored government agencies (MN Pollution and Control, MN Department of Natural Resources, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources). I knew nothing of what mentors did, but I sure was excited to have someone to talk to.

And talk I did. Turns out, Oprah’s quote is accurate. Mentors help you have hope in yourself, and that’s exactly what my mentor did. From the first meeting, we instantly connected. I didn’t hold back; I was really communicative and told her the things spoken above. She was incredibly understanding, welcoming, honest, and overall receptive to what I had shared. We worked together weekly, always being mindful of my previous mindset. I wanted to disrupt the thought process I had for myself and change behaviors created by it. She constantly showered me with encouragement and gave me real-life examples to help me overcome it.

Our weekly meetings quickly became my favorite part of the week. My mentor always gave me what I needed; motivation and encouragement to be myself and create my own path. It’s like she gave me the approval I sought to march to the beat of my own drum. I continue to work with her and, like a sponge, soak up her knowledge and grit to continue to have and establish hope in myself and walk life through my own shoes. Now when I look up, the ceiling is no longer what I see.