Luba Kassova is Director and Co-Founder of AKAS consultancy and a mentor on our Summer 2019 programme. In this blog post, she reflects on her mentoring experience with her mentee, Betty, and the lessons she learnt along the way.
Sitting in Clapham Junction’s Cafe Nero on a spring Friday morning, I felt a little excited and slightly nervous in anticipation of meeting Betty for the first time. As a first-generation immigrant myself, who had received support from so many on my integration journey, I had always wanted to work with refugees to give something back. So this meeting was a dream coming true. My nervousness stemmed from the uncertainties I was facing: would Betty and I get along? And, more importantly, could I make a positive difference to her life in 10 sessions?
Despite Daisy and Leyla from Routes advising mentors to give very specific instructions about the location of our first meetings, it transpired that mine had been somewhat ambiguous, leading Betty to struggle to find the cafe. Betty, for her part, had not allowed enough time for her journey and was running late. Consequently, our first meeting started 45 minutes late. Despite the rather stressful, sub-optimal start, we connected straight away. Within minutes of meeting, I was engrossed in Betty’s story and humbled by what she had gone through in the last 20 years. (Lesson #1: Don’t worry if the first session doesn’t go quite as you had imagined). As the sessions progressed, I became deeply touched by Betty’s warmth and her passion for bringing people together through her cooking.
Despite our very different backgrounds, circumstances and cultures, I found that Betty and I had a lot in common. We had both been in London for almost two decades; we both loved bringing people together; we both enjoyed food; and we had both lost our mums early in life. I was able to relate to Betty in a way I had not expected to so soon (Lesson #2: Similarities will be there if you look for them.)
Betty’s drive to launch her own business was invigorating. It chimed with my own drive over the last 7 years for running my business. Betty and I started planning events which would showcase her cooking and provide her with feedback on her menu and intended pricing. Throughout our work together I often remembered an invaluable piece of advice we received from the Routes team - celebrate the small victories, not just the big ones (Lesson #3: Take Routes’ advice!). This advice helped me to notice and celebrate all the milestone moments Betty and I reached together, however ‘small’. For example: our shared emotion when writing the invitation for an event; Betty completing her tasting menu; me locating a laptop for her to enable her greater independence; Betty providing the last prices for some ingredients to finalise the budget; the two of us simply sharing a moment of empathy.
At the start of my mentoring journey my sole focus was on how to help Betty, searching constantly for different ways I could enhance her life in the limited time we had together each week. What I hadn’t anticipated, but realise now, is how much Betty enhanced my life. Her honesty, the unique challenges she continues to face, and her natural wisdom opened new perspectives on the world for me. In different ways, we each ended up as both mentor and mentee. I left every session feeling enriched and grateful for my interactions with Betty (Lesson #4: Reflect on how the mentoring engagement is affecting you).
During one of our later sessions - while discussing people’s diverse beliefs – Betty, in her unassuming and perceptive manner, said something which will stay with me forever:
“We are all going to the same place in the end, but some of us want to get there on foot, others by bus, or by car, or by taxi or by bike. And that’s ok. Everyone is free to get there however they do. What really matters is that we are going to the same place”.
So here I am, on a hot summer’s afternoon, reflecting on how liberating it feels to worry less about each step that Betty and I take on our mentorship journey and how reassuring it feels to trust that our shared humanity will keep taking us where we need to go (Lesson #5: Trust!).
Luba Kassova | Director and Co-Founder - AKAS consultancy