Chapter Four

Introduction to Mentoring for Success and Self-Determination


Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

— Albert Camus —


A primary goal of the DO-IT electronic mentoring community is to support the participants in their transitions to successful, self-determined adult lives. In this context, being successful does not mean that you are successful in all that you do but rather that you are satisfied with your overall progress toward the goals you have established for yourself. Everyone experiences success; everyone experiences setbacks and even failure. In this chapter, mentors and protégés begin to explore the topics of success and self-determination.

The multifaceted topic of success can be approached in a variety of ways. Some professionals have looked at characteristics that successful adults have in common. For example, positive attitude has been found to be a common characteristic of successful adults. As shared by a college student who is blind:

I have a positive attitude about my future because I believe in myself. I lost my vision over one summer when I was entering the eighth grade. I had to adjust to doing everything without seeing. I overcame my fear and excelled socially and academically. I passed a specialized high school exam and was accepted to the Bronx H.S. of Science. However, in the beginning of my sophomore year my parents decided to get a divorce. This threw me for a loop and I was depressed for a while. But then I realized that depression was not going to help me if I wanted to continue toward my goals. So I dealt with my anger and disappointment. Looking back, it still hurts but I have a better outlook on life because of it. Through my inner strength I overcame these hurdles and looked forward to college. People are stronger than we give them credit for. People with a disability are no different.

A sense of purpose has also been found to promote success (Scales & Leffert, 1999). The belief that your life is part of something larger and more enduring than daily struggles can provide the motivation to persevere when life presents challenges. It has also been found that people who do well in life have a clear sense of self-worth and a high tolerance for distress. Successful people tend to be optimistic; they have positive beliefs about the world and they think things will work out for the best, despite setbacks (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).

Successful people know they can control some aspects of their environment by their actions. They also tend to be expressive about the difficulties they face in everyday life. They are able to talk about their problems and place them in a perspective that is not overwhelming.

The overall sense of well-being was explored by Abraham Maslow (1950, 1968, 1970) in his work on self-actualization. His model rests on the belief that success in life is not a set of isolated characteristics but an integrated process. Maslow stressed that no one ever reaches perfection in all areas but that the process of working on key characteristics is the most important task people face on their road to a satisfying quality of life. These characteristics include:

  • becoming fully functional as a mature individual (self-identity, self-realization, self-direction)
  • being responsible for one's own behaviors and attitudes
  • realizing one's own unique potential as a human being
  • having a strongly developed sense of integrity based on defined personal values
  • showing personal creativity
  • being challenged rather than defeated by new events or information in daily life
  • having a sense of humor
  • having high levels of motivation and persistence

By following the online activities found in this book, mentors can help teens explore how others have defined success and develop their own definitions of success. After completing these activities, participants will be able to:

  • describe what success and self-determination mean to them
  • state how success can be found in personal, social, spiritual, academic, and employment areas of life
  • describe how successful people set goals and work toward them, take risks, and learn from both their successes and their failures
  • understand how learning to take responsibility for their lives is a gradual process
  • describe strategies that address challenges imposed by disabilities
  • describe how they can deal with awkward situations in a positive way
  • explain how a positive attitude can influence success
  • explain how benefits can be derived from challenges they face

Participants will be able to list some of the common characteristics of successful people, including:

  • a sense of purpose and self-worth
  • a desire to succeed
  • a positive attitude
  • self-confidence
  • ambition
  • determination
  • motivation
  • persistence
  • self-discipline
  • courage
  • a sense of humor
  • a willingness to take risks

In several of the E-Community Activities in this chapter, mentors and protégés are asked to view the video about Todd, Jessie, and Randy, Taking Charge 1: Three Stories of Success and Self Determination (www.washington.edu/doit/Video/taking_charge.html). Randy, Jessie, and Todd have met and continue to meet the challenges in life that we all face—succeeding in school, making friends, finding and succeeding in a career. They have had to adjust their goals and strategies to address unique challenges related to their disabilities. Todd, Randy, and Jessie view their disabilities as part of who they are but not the characteristic that fully defines them any more than their gender, age, or height defines them. They do not see themselves as victims. When faced with a challenge, they ask questions such as the following:

  • How can I tackle this problem in another way so that I can succeed?
  • What do I need to do to see past these barriers and take control of my own future?
  • What resources are available to me?
  • What other strategies might I try?
Photo of DO-IT Scholar in wheelchair typing on a computer in his lap.

Randy, Todd, and Jessie all lead successful lives, but their success does not come without hard work, setbacks, and adjustments. In addition to powerful role models of young people who are determined to overcome challenges, these stories can provide a framework for opening discussions between mentors and protégés on issues of disability, success, and self-determination. A second video in the Taking Charge series tells two stories of teens moving down their paths toward self-determined lives. A third video, Taking Charge 3, combines all five stories into a one-half hour program suitable for public television. They can be purchased from DO-IT or freely viewed online at www.washington.edu/doit/Video.

The e-mentoring administrator can select appropriate messages from the following examples and send those titles labeled Mentor Tips to the mentors only and those labeled E-Community Activity to the entire online community of mentors and protégés. These messages introduce protégés and mentors to the mentoring community and present general topics regarding success and self-determination. Use these examples to stimulate other ideas for online discussions. It is desirable that, ultimately, most discussion topics come from the mentors and protégés themselves. Note that some of the content of these messages is published in Taking Charge: Stories of Success and Self-Determination (Burgstahler, 2006c).