Time for some self-honesty about my professional life. As I’ve mentioned once or twice on here previously, I have been a devoted volunteer. I hesitate to specify who I volunteer for, out of a need to keep my male side’s professional integrity and dignity intact. I will, however, hint that part of my volunteering involves work with a certain educational organization that has a presence here in Dane County. It was with that organization that I volunteered with earlier today.
Some background first: From my first role with them, Male Mode Me’s volunteer duties with this organization have been spent in classrooms, presenting to younger children a curriculum about being responsible with money and the importance of doing good work. As wonderful and fulfilling as those duties are, I have desired to broaden my horizons, so to speak, with this group. And so it was that today, I took the day off from work (I used up vacation time) to volunteer for the first time at one of this organization’s more notable events, a competition where teams of high school students practice managing a pretend company. And it wasn’t like, “Oh, let’s create a logo, designate who does what” and all that. More precisely, this involved determining how many widgets to make, how much they cost, how much to spend on marketing and research… and perform better than other “companies” in their “industry.”
So, what was my role in this competition? Well, I was one of several volunteers who served as a “mentor” to the students. Each of the mentors were assigned to guide a two-person team to provide advice and insight on their decision making process (though, of course, we couldn’t do any work or decision making for them). Initially, I was assigned to mentor two teams due to one of the volunteer mentors being unavailable (let’s just say the flu is nasty this season). Thankfully, the event’s organizers saw that this first-timer could have been overwhelmed covering for two teams, so they slotted another mentor to cover one of the teams.
How did I wind up doing as a mentor, you ask? Well (*sigh*)… I didn’t do so much offering advice to my team (two high school seniors from the same school, for the record) than I did observing what they were doing. Thankfully, they knew what they were doing; for sure, their teachers have taught them very well. The game (and it was a game, with the teams competing against each other for real stakes I’ll mention later) was old hat to them, as they, their classmates, and the participants from the other schools had some practice on it in the days leading up to the event. (This was a computer-based game, I should note.) Any questions I asked of them felt to me less “are you sure you want to do that?” and more “gee, that was never familiar to me before” (though I didn’t let on with that).
And this is where I must offer some bits of self-honesty: First, unlike the students in today’s event, I never took any business classes in high school. Heck, I’m not even sure if my high school ever offered business courses when I was a kid all those many years ago. Maybe it was a byproduct of our school being in a small town — a town whose residents just put their nose to the proverbial grindstone rather than think about the whys and hows or the consequences. (It’s a lame excuse for some of you, but still…)
Plus, I’m more of a doer than a thinker. And more of a “let’s try something and see if it sticks” kind of worker than a “let’s think this through before doing anything” worker. That was evident last night, when in preparing for today’s event, I tried out a for-the-novice version of the game that was played today. Even with some preparatory background on how it would be played, the game felt somewhat overwhelming. And despite “winning” my practice game against two computer-generated “companies,” the disapproving message the results gave me — that I won despite making ineffective business choices (okay, I guessed a lot) — left me a bit dejected.
And it made me think… nay, reminded me that I’ve never been nor will I ever be the businessperson type. I may handle and update a lot of data in front of a computer in my regular job at work, but it’s part of a job to help make a customer happy, not to help balance a team’s workload or even steady an entire company’s ship through choppy financial waters. As I hinted in the above paragraph, I’m more of a doer than a thinker. That’s not to say I’ve thought about being a business or team leader in the past. Indeed, I have taken a couple of business world instructional courses through my place of employment, and they were quite enlightening, but they only enlightened me with the obvious fact that I am not leadership material.
Nevertheless, today’s event wasn’t without its rewards. I did get to network with other professionals who volunteered at the event. And though my business knowledge will never exceed any of theirs, it’s enlightening to hear their expertise and advice. I know it felt just as enlightening for the students, who heard not only from the gathered mentors but also from a special guest who offered some words of advice during the lunch break; some of his sage words prompted me to write them down and stow them away in my shirt pocket. And I also had the chance to offer some of my own sage advice from the team I mentored; I know this because they asked me: Each team was given some questions to ask of their mentors, including where they worked, their position, and what advice they had to offer. I was honest with my position and guidance, advising my team to start small when entering the business world but keep an eye for the opportunity that will be a good fit for them.
Aside from all that and the
realization confirmation that I’ll never be the greatest of business leaders, I took solace in the fact that the future business leaders of our great land, or at least the future business leaders in that conference room with me today, are talented and have a bright future ahead of them. I could see that in the team I mentored: After they finished in the lower half of their group in the first half of the business competition, they came back after lunch, made strategy adjustments, and finished first in their repêchage group (or “losers bracket” for those who don’t know French). And while they didn’t get the modest monetary toward post-secondary education that the champions group winners did, they did earn gift cards from Best Buy. Not too bad for a day’s work.