The Hard Work

“How do you get a mentor?”

It was a question I asked my friend Maggie over lunch one day several years ago. I was in the middle of a particularly stressful season in my life and had a hit a point where I would’ve tried just about anything to see a change come. So when Maggie mentioned that she was meeting once a month with a mentor, my ears perked up.

Two weeks later, I was on the way to a Taylor Swift concert (#swiftieforlife) when I got a voicemail from Maggie’s mentor, Mary Jane. She had heard my questions about mentoring from Maggie and was calling to tell me that she would be willing to start meeting with me as well.

And just like that, I had a mentor.

What followed was a year full of what I now lovingly refer to as “the hard work.” We met together once a month for a couple of hours and in that time, she made me do the hard work of personal growth. I read the books she asked me to read, I did the homework she asked me to do, I memorized the verses she encouraged me to memorize, and I had the honest conversations about where my life was and where I hoped it would go. I cried (a lot), mostly in public places (sorry to the staff at Panera Bread!). She listened (a lot). And when the year was up and she tried to break up with me, I wouldn’t let her do it. Metaphorically, I became that crazy girl who refuses to acknowledge a change in a relationship and holds onto the leg of the person who is trying to leave, kicking and screaming the whole way.

Because every piece of the hard work was worth where it took my life.

Now before I go on, there’s something you need to know about me: I don’t like being told what to do. Ever. I’m a strong-willed girl with strong opinions and a strong sense of independence. And sometimes, that strength is great. It very rarely lets me be pushed around or taken advantage of. It helped me argue my way into a substantial refund check from my insurance company. It carried me through hours on the phone with my cell phone provider to get the discount I was promised. It made me speak up at the airport when someone was chewing out the gate agent for no reason. It helped me go toe to toe in the driveway with the president of my HOA after he yelled at my roommates for no reason. Yes, that strength has helped me out in a lot of situations, but it’s also made submitting to the leading of someone else extremely difficult.

I once had someone tell me that they thought I was a Warrior Bunny—equal parts truth and grace. That name has become sort of a moniker around my house ever since, and it’s one I wear with pride. It really is the way I see myself—a strong warrior ready to fight for others, but with a big heart and soft sense of compassion and empathy at the same time.

But if I’m being honest here, it’s a lost easier for me to tap into the warrior than it is the bunny. It’s a lot easier for me to speak up, stand strong, and fight then it is for me to lay down, rest, and submit.

That’s why mentoring has been so key for me.

My mentor has full permission to tell me what to do. She has full permission to give it to me straight. She has full reign to boss this Warrior Bunny around and help me channel both sides of myself in the right ways.

And she has that permission not just because I gave it to her, but because she loves me. Every hard conversation she has with me, every book she asks me to read, every exercise she wants me to try, every challenging thing she wants me to think through is because she values my life and wants me to be better. She wants both the warrior and the bunny to flourish in the way God made them to, and she wants that because she loves me.

I’m learning a lot about the value of that kind of love in my life right now. I now lead a group of 10th graders for my mentor’s ministry ( And every other week I’m trying to do the same thing she’s done for me: Love them first. I’m trying to have hard and honest conversations, answer tough questions, and just be real with them as they grow into the women God made them to be. But before I can do any of that, they have to know that I’m for them. They have to know that I’m in their corner no matter what. They have to know that I love them.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to lay that foundation of love with those girls, but I know that it’s worth “the hard work” it takes to do it because love is the only foundation on which hard conversations can be built.

More and more, I’m realizing that I can’t do this life without the voices of those who love me speaking into it. We get by with a little help from our friends, right? (Shout out to Aunt Debbie, the biggest and best Beatle fan I know!) Making room for these voices has been especially key to me lately.

Being self-employed means that you’re totally on your own out here. And while there are a lot of great things about that set up, one of the biggest drawbacks is the isolation. There’s a lot of room for me to hide, get lazy, or not follow through on a lot of things because no one else is looking. That’s why this year I created a sort of board for myself—a group of people who I invited to speak into specific areas of my life. Once every quarter I meet with these people one on one and tell them about my wins, my losses, and my goals for each specific area. We’re talking everything from finances to health to writing. We set goals, make plans, and come up with ideas. And then I give them full permission to tell me what to do. They have the right to check in, ask questions, speak up, and call me out.

Is it awkward? Duh! Nobody wants to show someone else exactly how much student debt they have left. Nobody wants to point out areas where they’ve failed to take care of themselves. Nobody wants to show someone else crappy pieces of writing they’ve worked on.

But that’s where the love comes in. Every bit of awkwardness is overshadowed with love because the people who are speaking into my life are speaking out of love first. When they’re encouraging me, when they’re praising me, when they’re helping me set goals, and even when they’re saying hard things, they’re doing it out of love. 

My point is this: I still don’t like being told what to do. But when I’m being told out of love, I find it a lot easier to take and even easier to actually do.

We live in a time where hard conversations feel like they’re happening every single day. Disagreements are prevalent and opposition is huge. It’s hard to feel like you can say anything at all for fear of hurting someone else. Even The Bachelor is polarizing to people these days! (And if we can’t unite around The Bachelor, what can we agree on, people?).

But what I’ve learned from the way others have treated me is that you have to lead with love. Be the bunny first—the loving, listening, comforting friend. Show them that person again and again. And then when it’s time for the warrior to rear it’s head, they’ll know you come in peace.



Sara Shelton