I remember middle school like it was yesterday. I remember feeling incredibly shy and awkward, afraid to reach out and make friends or try out for things I wasn’t sure I would make. Anxiety and insecurity consumed me and kept me trapped in the boundaries I set for myself. That was middle school me, always playing it safe and trying to get through the day without drawing attention to myself. As I progressed through high school, I began to learn that I was more capable and likable than I thought I was. I learned to manage my anxiety and developed more confidence in my abilities and in myself in general. As these realizations took place, I found that I had a passion beginning to burn inside of me to reach out to the girls currently going through what I went through. I wanted nothing more than to share with them the things I had learned and tell them that they are not alone. I had a few friends at the time who felt the same way. We had a shared vision and came together to start a ministry called What I Wish I Knew. We planned and hosted conferences for middle school girls every year at which we would have worship, Bible study, and breakout sessions to talk about issues these girls face each day. Our mission was to have fun building relationships with these girls while sharing our experiences and what we had learned. As the ministry grew, I felt such a strong sense of purpose. This is what I was made for; to pour into the younger generation and encourage and empower them. I have met so many people throughout my time in this ministry who have expressed that they wish this ministry would have been around when they were younger. This caused me to think that maybe there are other women like me who have experience and wisdom they would like to share, but don’t know how or have never had an opportunity. So, a few years ago, I posed this question to my friends on Facebook: What is one thing you wish you could go back and tell a younger version of yourself?
Here are some of the responses I received:
“Your body does not define you.”
“There are consequences for your actions.”
“Your feelings are not always based on truth and you won’t feel this way forever.”
“Embrace your ‘weirdness.’”
“Let the things that hurt you and break your heart make you stronger, better, and not bitter.”
“You are fearfully and wonderfully made by the God of the universe, who made ALL things, and called them ‘good.’”
“Perfection is overrated and impossible.”
“Everyone around you is also trying to find their way, so don’t feel you are the only one.”
“Be patient with yourself, you still have some growing up to do.”
“Seek God’s plan for your life and He will write your love story.”
These are only a few of the responses I received and most of them were from women. These women ranged from middle school girls to elderly adults. They come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. To me, this demonstrated that no matter how old we are, where we come from, or what we have been through, we all have something we wish we could share with the younger version of our self. There are many things we wish we could go back and change or do differently. We wish we could offer a word of encouragement to help the younger version of ourselves through those hard times. The passing of time and experience accumulates personal growth and learning from failures and successes.
I do not think it is a coincidence that as we are compiling all of this wisdom, as there are younger, less experienced individuals growing up and trying to find their way in the world. New generations and younger versions of ourselves who are going through the same things we went through. Often, we look at those younger versions and think, “She reminds me so much of me, if only she knew.”
I have always heard it said that it “takes a village to raise a child.” I would take this a step further and say that it takes a village to raise, equip, and empower girls and women of all ages to develop a strong sense of self-worth, walk in confidence, and fulfill their purpose. There is a woman from my hometown who has embraced this concept and started a movement that gives women the opportunity to share their stories and wisdom and shows young girls that they are not alone. She has created The Village Girl Handbook, which is a compilation of real-life stories written by women of all ages who have grown and learned from their trials and experiences. These women now desire to share that wisdom with the women behind them. The book covers a wide range of topics that all women and girls can learn from and be inspired by such as learning disabilities, coping with anxiety and depression, sibling rivalry, losing a parent, living in foster care, identity, mentorship, bullying, social media etiquette, relationships, peer pressure, and much more. The stories are rich in passion and truth from real women who have experienced real pain and desire to make a real impact. And that is exactly what is happening. The book has been given to girls all over the community, state, nation, and even in several other countries. It was designed to be a resource for adolescent girls, but it has impacted women in all stages of life.
When I think about The Village Girl Handbook, I think about the concept of mentorship. A mentor is, in its simplest definition, an experienced and trusted adviser (Dictionary.com, 2018). Research shows that adolescent girls who have a mentor are more likely to perform better academically and develop healthier social, self-regulation, and leadership skills. They report having a higher self-esteem, more confidence, and an ability to make wiser decisions. Having a relationship with an older, more experienced female gives adolescent girls an opportunity to have a positive, trust-based relationship with someone other than their parents who they can learn from and also enjoy spending time with. Mentors are able to offer advice on schoolwork, relationships, preparing for the future, and much more, as well as giving them a safe space to talk through issues the girls face each day (Deutsch, Reitz-Krueger, Henneberger, Futch Ehrlich, & Lawrence, 2017).
The girls are not the only ones who benefit from this relationship. Women who have been in the role of a mentor report that they feel a greater sense of purpose from being able to share wisdom and experience with younger girls and that they see that their struggles were not in vain. Mentors can also learn from their mentees, as their eyes are opened to issues the younger generation is dealing with and gaining insight into their perspectives. Mentors develop empathy and increase their feelings of self-worth as they see the difference they are making. Mentorship is a two-way street that benefits all who participate (Holsinger & Ayers, 2004).
Human beings crave to be known and accepted. We were created to live in community and build one another up. I believe mentorship is one of the greatest ways we can invest in each other’s lives and empower one another. The common misconception is that in order to be a mentor, you have to have a certain amount of wisdom, know all the answers, or have it all together. In reality, a mentor is someone who is willing to be vulnerable about their life experiences . I wonder what the world would look like, how girls might feel about themselves if mentorship was more common. Mentorship empowers women and girls in powerful and tangible ways. It is a small thing that has a lasting impact. I imagine, if we are all willing to pour into the ones in front of us, I believe we will see a generation of women rise up, find their purpose and potential and ultimately change this world.
MSW Candidate 2019
Diana R. Garland School of Social Work
Burden, K. (2017). The Village Girl Handbook(Vol. 1). Nederland, TX: Kristi Burden.
Deutsch, N. L., Reitz-Krueger, C. L., Henneberger, A. K., Futch Ehrlich, V. A., & Lawrence, E. C. (2017). “It Gave Me Ways to Solve Problems and Ways to Talk to People”: Outcomes From a Combined Group and One-on-One Mentoring Program for Early Adolescent Girls. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(3), 291–322. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558416630813
Dictionary.com. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2018.
Holsinger, K., & Ayers, P. (2004). Mentoring Girls in Juvenile Facilities: Connecting College Students with Incarcerated Girls*. Journal of Criminal Justice Education: JCJE; Highland Heights, 15(2), 351–372.