I followed Thembe Khumalo on every platform before we even spoke. She was mentoring me even before she knew that she was. My mom subscribed to the Newsday and I’d get the paper to assist with my degree. That’s when I was first exposed to Thembe Khumalo‘s column. I knew then, that this is the calibre of woman I wanted to be when I grew up.
I was working at the Jupiter Drawing Room Harare when she slid into my DMs on Twitter. In true dramatic Thembi Terry fashion, I was screaming and honoured and mad excited. She wanted to have coffee. I was beyond the moon. I made the mistake of asking her where and she said the Delicious Restaurant in Sam Levy Village, Borrowdale. I lived way across town and didn’t drive and the breakfast meeting was at 8am. Did I have to be at work? Yep but this was important. I woke up at 4:30am to start getting ready. Left the house when it was dark outside to catch a kombi to town. I wasn’t familiar with Harare so I walked from Copa Cabana to Fourth Street to catch a kombi to Sam Levy Village. I made it on time.
When she arrived, she was even more beautiful in person. There was an aura about her that was majestic. In short, her energy was correct. I asked if she wanted breakfast. I wanted to pay, it was the least I could do. Lord knows I couldn’t afford her time. When she got up to go to the bathroom I ran to the cashier to settle the bill before she ate because Steward Bank has a way of embarrassing me and that day I wasn’t having it. I wasn’t going to be embarrassed in front of Thembe Khumalo.
The rest has been history in the making.
Having a mentor has been crucial to my success. There’s things I look back on in my life with shame and regret and now having a mentor is helping me to make less of those mistakes.
Here are some notes that I have come to gather about mentorship.
You’ve got to have a teachable spirit
Having a mom reprimanding you and pushing you is hard. But having a mentor is even harder because you know it’s do or die. This person won’t stay unconditionally like your mom. They don’t owe you anything. The opportunity to be guided by them could end at any moment. You have to take the advice and if you can’t then why did you seek their counsel?
I remember when applications for the Young African Leaders Initiative came out. I didn’t pay them any mind. Saw the adverts everywhere and I was like nope not me. And then my mentor woke up and said to me, “Apply.” I flat out refused more than Peter denied Jesus. Then it occured to me that I’ve been trusting her wisdom and it’s been paying out. I trusted her one more time. I applied and forgot all about it. In January I got the email that I’d been shortlisted for interviews. I’ve never been so grateful for a human in my life.
You’ve got to be like-minded
You are in mechanics but you want a hairdresser to mentor you. Sometimes someone is so inspirational that you are just drawn to them but if they aren’t in your industry, there’s very little that they can assist you with. Thembe and I have similar interests in media, writing, branding and our love for women empowerment. Do we agree on everything, absolutely not but the fundamentals we agree 100%. She’s been in the game, she’s met the key players. When I need someone she always a contact to direct me to or connect me with. She’s enabling me in a good way. It’s like I’m operating with years of experience and my cheat sheet is Thembe. This makes things move a whole lot faster than trial and error.
You’ve got to put in the work
A mentor takes time from their very busy schedule to advise you. You can’t ever be caught slipping or sleeping. Thembe would text me at 5am and I’d respond at 10am. She’d ask why I wouldn’t have meetings before that and I told her it’s because I’d be asleep during that time. I could feel the shock and horror as she was typing her response which was, “There’s no time for sleeping til 10 in world domination.” The early mornings suck but at least she doesn’t have me running with her at the crack of dawn.
You’re held accountable
I grew up in a chaotic home. It didn’t matter what you did. It was very laissez-faire. And because of this, I could start something and leave it halfway because nobody cared and no one held me accountable. Days before I met Thembe she told me to list down all my projects and how they would all play out ideally. I remember before our first breakfast her text was, “Bring dreams.” Boy oh boy did I bring them. Since then, a whole three years later she’s been holding me accountable and overseeing every one of them.
You’ve gotta have something to give
Thembe is a brand builder. She charges people and corporates big monies to even start thinking about their strategy. And here I was with minimum wage and nothing to offer. There was no way I could afford her. That didn’t stop me from being of value to her. My skill set, my network, my support was what I had to offer and I just prayed it would suffice. It drives me to read more, learn more so that I can contribute to the conversation.
There’s the stereotype that women don’t support each other and I am glad that I get to be one of the people that dispel that myth. When Advocate Mahere had that fall out with her mentor on Twitter it was horrifying to watch. It made a lot of people skeptical about asking for help and things one day turning that ugly. Mentors are also humans and it takes two to tango that deep into the darkness.
The older people have a thing or two to show the younger generation. We can all teach each other something new and together we can make something great. This is how greatness is passed down to ensure that empires don’t die away.