We’ve all seen them in our local convenience stores – the “Give a Penny, Take a Penny” trays. The idea is simple, if your purchase requires an extra penny or two, and you find yourself short, you can take a penny from the tray. In return, if you buy something and end up with a penny or two in your change, you can drop them in the tray for someone else. No one keeps track to make sure you give as many as you take. There might be a string of visits where you find yourself needing a penny over and over. You might always drop a penny without never actually needing to take one yourself, but you do it because you have it to give.
In student affairs, mentorship plays an important role in our work. It’s often characterized in the relationships we build over time. One professional takes another one under their wing. Sometimes it can be heavily one-sided or last for a defined period of time. Other times it can be a lasting relationship, offering reciprocity where both individuals learn from each other at different moments. But mentorship can also happen in brief “give a penny, take a penny” moments. It can happen when someone sits with you for coffee at a conference. It can happen when someone takes the time to hear you spit ball a new idea. It can happen when someone coaches you for an upcoming interview in a functional area or school type you might be unfamiliar with. You might be in a time of your life where you need to keep taking a few more pennies than you can give. No one is keeping track, though. Just remember to give a little back when someone else can utilize what you have to give.
Time and experience are both precious commodities. When we choose to invest either, the returns are immeasurable. I know I have benefited tremendously from those willing to share both with me at various moments in my career. I try to do the same whenever I’m in a position to offer guidance or advice. Mentorship doesn’t need to be ongoing to still have an impact. Sometimes all you need is to make yourself available.
There’s pennies in the tray. Take one if you need one. That’s what they’re there for. Just don’t forget that when it’s you who has the pennies, to leave a few behind.