Fledgling to Flight: Why You Matter as a Mentor - Christine Kane

It was a windless summer day. I was eleven years old, hair long and braided. I sat on a ragged old bench at my team’s softball field waiting for my teammates to arrive. I felt the curling green paint cracking under my legs.

Coach Williams knelt down in front of me and said, “We’re going to play in a tournament where people have to try out. I want you to play. You’re the best second baseman I’ve seen.” I was speechless. I’d never received such high praise before. My heart raced with excitement as I shyly thanked him.

I’d played for him since I was about 8 years old. He made us do push-ups (20 to be exact) whenever we missed a ground ball, and we practiced well past dusk many times until we got it just right. As a result, I rarely missed a ground ball in a game, AND I can still do 20 push-ups today without much effort.

He expected a lot from me. And lo and behold, he got it. I was stronger than I thought! A life lesson I would learn over and over again. Often with Coach Williams in mind.

One thing we know about great mentors is this: They don’t tell us what to do, they show us by example. And in the meantime they magically unveil our strengths to us as if they’ve known them all along.

Miss Judy was my 4th grade reading teacher. She had long wild hair, wore flowing clothes (ok, it was the 70s), and had a huge, wide smile. I longed to just hang out with her and often wished I could go to her house on the weekend.

She introduced us to linking verbs as ‘weird verbs’ instead. We were permitted to yell, “Be! Am! Is! Are! Was! Were! Been!” in escalating sound levels until we all fell over laughing. (Much to my daughter’s annoyance I was yelling that mantra as she studied linking verbs yesterday.) Miss Judy made us participants in, rather than just recipients of her teaching.

For once I was glad my last name (at the time) started with a B. I got a front row seat in her class everyday.

Miss Judy took us to the library frequently (the REAL one, not the school one). It was during those trips with her that I began to love books – the smell of them, the weight of them, and the way the Laura Ingalls Wilder books crinkled when opened.

Miss Judy frequently asked me how many books I’d read lately, and waved her arms in dramatic surprise when I told her how many. Always.

She made me believe I was smart. That I really ‘got’ this language thing.

Eight years ago I found her and sent her a book of poetry I wrote and published. The card she sent back was just like her. She’d made it herself, violets from her garden pressed on the front. Her note was brief, sincere, loving, memorable. I was touched by the care she took in creating it. She was mentoring me even still.

What Coach Williams and Miss Judy taught me is this:

You are always mentoring someone.

Even when you’re just doing your job well. Especially when you’re doing your job well.

Whether you know it or not, whether you intend to or not, someone is looking to you – yes you – for guidance.

Inspire them. Infuse them with encouragement. You can even wave your arms in dramatic surprise when they do something well!

See who they are, and help them clear away the clutter that’s distracting them from being that person you see inside. Doesn’t everyone need someone who can see them this way? (Maybe for fun you can even make them do push-ups!)

Being a mentor may even be accidental. We might not know who looks up to us. But why not make it intentional? Why not support someone in honor of your best mentors, in honor of your awesome self. Why not change a life?

And if you feel especially grateful, send a note (or this post!) to someone who has been this person for you. Someone who may not realize the impact they’ve had on your life. How cool will that be for them?

As for me, I’m posting this poem I wrote for one of my most awesome mentors. Some of you may know her. ☺


In the light of possibility

you stood.

And though I saw you clearly
with your half smile
and knowing eyes

I wasn’t quite sure
why you cared.

Now I realize
you lead from a place of
decision and

I see how your gifts,
your knowledge,
mentor mine.

Your path,
decidedly open,
clears mine

because you have been a traveler
on this very road
you unselfishly guide.

I experience your strength as you hold


my best self for me

even when I’m a flightless baby bird.

You know the depth but see the buoyancy,
know the doubt but see the hope.

You show me through your life

that the road is winding, imperfect,

and every step of the way

worth the journey.


Sue Ludwig is the President and Founder of the National Association of Neonatal Therapists. She is a consultant to neonatal intensive care units around the country, a national speaker, and a published poet. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

  • Alex

    Your poem really touched me, thankyou.

    Actually, thankyou for this whole site, you really make a difference to my experience.

    Best, Alex.

  • Sue

    Sue and Katherine-

    My book is on Amazon.com. It’s titled ‘Perspective’ and is officially under my full name, Susan Ludwig. It was published in 2002. Wow how my life has changed since then! 🙂


  • Elisa

    Hi Sue and Christine, I just wanted to thank you for posting this article in such a timely manner, because I was just asked last week if I would be interested in participating in more activities at my church, one of them being to mentor a couple of seminary students who are currently going through the same program that I had graduated from last year and kinda be their ‘buddy’ and answer their questions and encourage them along their spiritual path. And I was considering it and intrigued by the idea, but hadn’t made up my mind yet. So when I read this article, I took it as a sign — sure, I can be a mentor, a buddy, I do have something to offer. So, thank you. 🙂

  • inge

    such a touching, moving and inspiring post. it made me smile at the things I know I do, but sometimes forget why. #youarenotwhatyoudoyouarewhy =)
    it also made me sing that song by dar williams, that I sung way before I became a mum, on how to teach someone’s heart to trust, as you teach your own.

  • Sue Sullivan

    Sue, this is beautiful! I definitely will be sharing it.

    How can we get a copy of your book of poetry? I love your poem!

  • Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com

    Lovely and beautiful post. We all matter and our influence on others is much larger than we imagine. It’s up to those of us who have found our power to be pure as we are influencing others more than we might think.

  • judy hartman

    I am new to this blog, but have it bookmarked already as a favorite.
    This post made my mind wander back to people who encouraged me as a child, who made me feel special, and allowed me to see the strengths I possessed. Sadly, I did not receive such messages from my parents, but I am truly thankful to the adults and teachers who saw something special in a shy child and allowed me to have hope for myself and my future.
    A beautiful post and poem, Sue.

  • Kat

    brought happy tears to my eyes. 🙂
    thanks for sharing and yes, your mentor (and mine, too!) is just lovely…as YOU are!

  • Kathleen Krucoff

    Hi Christine!
    I love this post. When I read your poem, I immediately thought of my mentor and shared your poem with her. It brought tears to my eyes and hers.
    Thank you so much for sharing your positive approach to life. You have helped me in many ways.

  • jean

    Beautifully written Sue!!

  • Sam

    Sue, this was a very insightful post!
    I remember when growing up I had a neighbor 2 houses down from me ; her name was Harriet, but I knew her as Hotsie. She was a cross between a second mother and a surrogate grandmother. I could knock on her door any time of the day and she would welcome me. She would teach me embroidery, knitting, or just sit and talk with me. We were a family of 7 children, and she used to hide our Christmas gifts in her house so we couldn’t snoop. Mentoring at its best, because the mentor did not realize she was mentoring both the child and the parents! I still have the last letter she sent me before she died many years ago, and every now and then I bring it out and read it. It always makes me smile! Now, as I look back on the last 30 years, I feel that she had a major influence in how I raised my children (with my loving husband’s help), and how I have influenced the many at risk children.that have been in my care. I learned so much from her!
    Thank you, Sue, for bringing this to light!

  • Michelle Hastie

    I just love this. I only hope that everyone can experience that one teacher that makes everything make sense, I am so grateful for my 3rd grade teacher to this day! Thanks for the blog!

  • Kathy Troidle Jackson

    Such a wonderful post, Sue! Sometimes I forget that we mentor by just being who we are. So many have touched our lives and we sometimes remember to thank them but we are also touching – and sometimes even changing – people’s lives by example and the knowledge of that is so very powerful. I do lead some of our women’s programs at IBM and am blessed to have access to the many resources my company makes available to me to help other women. But as a new children’s book writer, I am now becoming even more acutely aware of how the little things can make a huge difference in a small one’s life. And taking time to remember the mentors that have guided us on our journey – well that’s just joy itself. So thank you for being a mentor to all of us today with this post and just being you!

  • katherineME

    Yeah! I get to read another article by Sue!
    I am in love with your writing. So, where do we get this book of poems?
    And is this an obvious guess that the mentor about whom you wrote your poem is the none other than Christine Kane?
    I am so honored to know all you Uplevelers. You lift me up, always.

  • Lisa Muller

    Thanks, Sue, incredible post. I will definitely be passing this on to some of my mentors.
    I just love your writing. So lovely, just like you! : )

  • brojoe

    Hey Sue,
    Great post like usual, but amazingly timely for me. I just committed to being Isaac’s (the 6th grader that I have been tutoring in Whiz Kids this year) mentor instead of just his tutor. Your blog has confirmed my decision. Thanks!

  • Stuart Milton

    Thanks Sue! What a lovely post!

  • Sue

    Wow. You all have left me happily teary. I can’t thank you enough for your comments. It’s so cool to know that people will be moved to thank their mentors!

    And thank Chrisitne for the poem. Without her I wouldn’t have been inspired to create it!

  • Nancy H

    Beautiful post, Sue. Your poem really touched me. Your stories inspire me to step into a more intentional role as a mentor in my teaching. Thank you.

  • Kelly – Sister of another mother

    Awesome post. I have already printed the poem and am giving it to my mentor at work, a person like the one you so eloquently describe.

    Please know that you mentor me to BE. Thanks for being you!

  • elaine

    Awesome post Sue and such a beautiful poem.

    You took me right back to Maybury Primary School (5-9 years old) and reminded me of Mrs May the headmistress who was such a mentor and role for me, even at such a young age. Out paths crossed in later life too when I started work and she was still as inspiring and supportive.

    Mentoring or being mentored is such an awesome gift to share. Thank you for reminding me – makes me all teary! 🙂

  • Marie

    Great post – it reminds me that I’m happiest when having contact with others in my work – to learn from and to mentor in turn – and how lonely I feel when I don’t have that contact. Right now I have no one to mentor, and really no one mentoring me, and I don’t like it – I want back into human society!

  • Laura Mixon, PhD

    Sue, thank you for a beautiful post. It reminds me that while we know of some people looking to our example (like my daughters and clients,) there are many more people we’re influencing that we’ll never know about. Reading this is a powerful way to start the day!.

  • furiousball

    i love teaching. i am a single dad that owns his own business of two kids. i teach piano and guitar, yet, most days, i learn more about my kids (both the real my kids, and my students) than i show them (i think).

  • Lynn

    I am speechless in your beautiful, heartfelt eloquence.

  • Leonie

    This put a smile on my face this morning. What a wonderful, delightful, heartwarming post! I’m going to have a good hard think about people I’d like to thank for being mentors of mine.

  • Mindful Mimi

    Lovely, just lovely. you sent me right back to childhood. I had a teacher too who was strict and severe but he made me discover nature, flowers (which we pressed and where we wrote the different names next to it). I also had a colleague at one of my first jobs. She was 10 years older than me and many times gave me good advice, especially on life matters.
    You realize all this later. And I have thought about writing these early mentors a thank you note. You just reminded me that I really should.
    Thank you.