Spiders & Mentoring

by Jessica Ashton

Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, maybe it’s fear of vulnerability, but putting pen to paper (hands to the keyboard) has seemed terrifying recently, so I’ve started and stopped this piece quite a few times. And then, one of my lady pals wrote a piece on leaning on her tribe and another one wrote a love letter to all of us , and it was Galentine’s Day, so I got over myself and wrote.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my web lately. Not my network (too transactional), although some may call it that, but my web. My web is a group of women across the nation (and depending on the day, the world) who have invested in me and who I’ve invested in. This web started in 2010, when I moved 3000 miles away from home to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A phenomenal woman rescued me (off the streets depending who you ask) in more ways than I can count, and poured into me in a way that changed my life. From there, she connected me to more power ladies and encouraged me to mentor those I could and as the women around me shined, I did as well (see Shine Theory).

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I consider this woman, along with many others, my mentor. In writing this, I realized something about mentoring. Mentoring is important, but somewhere along the way we turned it into this big intangible thing that only the best of the best can participate in. I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Lady mentoring is for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, a mentoring role is extremely important and should not be taken lightly, but I firmly believe that learning from someone and allowing them to learn from you is the most valuable thing we can do for one another as women.

I worry women have created a reality where our mentors should be smarter, older and more accomplished than us and that once someone is a mentor that is all they can ever be. We’ve created boxes for what a mentor is and what a mentor isn’t. Mentors are so much more than this. They are the women who pour into us and who we pour into. They’re the women we learn from and who learn from us. They’re the women who let us lean on them and who we lean on. They’re our inspiration and our grounders. They believe in our dreams and forgive our failures. I would argue these women don’t need any credentials but kindness and care to fulfill this role. And somewhere along the way, if we’re lucky, these women become our friends (if they weren’t already.)

When drawn out on a map, my growing mentoring relationships look a lot like a spider’s web. Each connection builds on another and each relationship builds on another badass lady friend who invested in me or I invested in along the way. We all need mentors and mentees and the more we empower others to build their webs the more ours grow. Like any normal human, all this talk about mentoring led me to research spider webs (some may have gone with flight paths, but here we are.)

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Did you know the tensile strength of spider webs is greater than the same weight of steel? So are my friends. Did you know its structure is being researched for potential use in bulletproof vests? My tribe makes me feel bulletproof. Did you know spiders expend a lot of energy building their webs, but can always eat the web to gain that energy back? This is where you thought I lost the analogy, huh? But in meaningful lady friendships, energy is shared back and forth. It takes a lot of work to build these relationships, yet these relationships always find a way to re-energize those that are a part of them.

This energy is important to think about, because y’all, it’s hard to be a woman. As we pour energy into one another, we must think about how that energy is poured back in. Our webs are stronger when we acknowledge the times we need our people and ask for that help. As a friend said to me this past weekend, “Everything is horrible—but it’s okay because we can tackle it together. Don’t be a hero. Let the people love you.”

We need to acknowledge the women in our webs that are charter members of the “Do it Myself Club,” and encourage them to lean on us. If you’re one of these women, I get it. I’m sure you can do it all by yourself, but it will be so much more meaningful (and a way better celebration) if you bring your squad along with you (this is where the “let me love you” bitmoji comes in).

To the women whose webs are just starting to form, don’t forget to surround yourself with those who make you better. These people will tell you the things you need to hear, even when that’s not what you want to hear. You’ll be better and stronger for knowing them and others will, in turn, be better and stronger for knowing you.

To the women who have poured into me (and may not even know it), thank you. I don’t deserve you, but you’re stuck with me forever now. Perhaps our ultimate web builder, Charlotte, said it best, “you have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

Jessica Ashton