Mentorship: Be one and Get one.

I never thought that one day people would look up to me; and ask for my support and guidance as their mentor – the exact same thing I did to my current mentors a few years ago. There’s always that hint of pressure to exceed expectations when asked for advice, because you suddenly realise that what you say to the person could make or break their career.

“Thuli, how did you know you wanted to become a professional interpreter?” “What did you study?” “How many years did it take you?” “Please help me get my SATI accreditation, I’m ready.”

These are common questions I get asked often by budding interpreters who want to be just like me.

I recently read a blog by The University of the People about the importance of mentorship: The reasons to either become one or get one. There have been countless moments in my life where I leaned on a trusted friend, manager, or spiritual guide to help shape my future opportunities for the better in various areas of my life.

A mentor is someone you can develop a long-term relationship with that’s centered on growth and development in a specific area. They are soundboards, sages, and great listeners. As an entrepreneur, I am fortunate to have two significant mentors to offer guidance on my journey: Melanie Hawken, CEO of Lionesses of Africa and Michael Muckian from the Cherie Blair Foundation Women in Business Mentorship Program. Their patience, words of wisdom and objective perspective has given me the courage to continue along my journey boldly.

Here are three benefits of having a mentor:

  1. Broadens your professional network

Mentors are usually well-connected and liked by people in their industry. They can introduce you to decision-makers who can open doors, bring more exposure your business, and drive potential customers to your products or services.

The past few months of building relationships with Melanie and Micheal has given me access to exclusive accelerator programs, financial advice, and some media coverage on social media. Each encounter builds my confidence and clears the path for me grow from strength to strength.

2. Learning from their experience

Mistakes will always happen, but the good thing about having a mentor is that you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes they made in the past. This will save you time and resources, while allowing you to advance on projects that will bring in profit.

A common mistake that both my mentors recalled was trying to do everything on their own with delegation or asking for help. They emphasize that team work is the best and fastest way to achieve a big goal – I just can’t do it alone. Sure, it will require an element of trust, support and patience; empowering others should be the end in mind.

3. Doesn’t cost much money

Mentors are a priceless asset that offer their golden nuggets of knowledge for free; of course the price you pay is commitment, time, and perseverance which in the end are worth it.

My personal motto is “Ask for time, not money”. I’ve learned that people are usually busy and don’t have enough time on their hands; so when my mentors avail themselves I make sure to keep my diary open and always show up. It’s time we can’t get back – so I honour my commitment to meet with them. This builds trust and shows that I respect the sacrifices they’ve made to invest in me.

On the flip side; I too have transferred my skills and knowledge to others personally and professionally. I’m currently mentoring an interpreter with great potential: she wants to get accredited, learn more entrepreneurship, and build her reputation within the industry.

It takes commitment, patience, honesty and clear goal-setting, all over a period of time.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned about being a mentor:

  1. It validates my knowledge

This is an opportunity to share my knowledge, experience and tips about the interpreting industry, entrepreneurship, or life skills. Paying it forward is important to me because I acknowledge that my success is credited to other people who believed in me and took a chance on me .

I often recommend which courses to study in order to fast-track their career and skill set; I listen as they express their dreams, goals and struggles; and share practical information like links, videos, blogs to research and explore.

2. Sense of purpose and vision

When I realised my ‘Why?’ it changed everything. I became more intentional about who I spent time with and what I focused my attention on – every moment is so precious.

I want my mentees to discover their own passions and go for their dreams. I want to inspire them by being a role model to them; showing them the possibilities of believing in yourself; and that hard work really does pay off. Although it’s not always easy, having a clear vision fuels my passion when I feel like giving up. I have something to go back to as a reminder of why I started in the first place.

3. Develops leadership and communication skills

Mentors are leaders. They are responsible for steering another person’s dream of becoming more in life; they often need to initiate conversations and ask tough questions that may cause discomfort.

Having good communication skills requires self-awareness. When I acknowledge my own thoughts and emotions, it becomes easier to emapthise with someone else who may be struggling with a certain area in their life.

Lastly, as a leader and mentor it’s important to lead by example. My actions are constantly scrutinised by others to ensure I so what I say; this is so important for building trust with mentees and stay accountable.


The relationship between a mentor and mentee has to be genuine – it shouldn’t be forced or else it will eventually become too technical. Honestly, there is a special connection between the two of you; when this crucial first step is done right, the relationship grows into a beautiful friendship based on trust, vulnerability, support and great fulfillment.

Help others get what they need and I promise you – opportunities and blessings will return to you in astounding ways, at the perfect time. Remember to pay it forward and play your part in contributing positively to the community around you.

By Yellow Owl

Welcome to Interpreter Insider, so glad you could join us! As an Insider you’ll be a member of this limited group of like-minded thinkers with exclusive knowledge about the ins and outs of the interpreting industry – and other related topics. You will have access to insights, experiences, tips and Yellow Owl's personal take on what the future of SASL interpreting may look like. Thuli Zikalala is the founder of Yellow Owl. This blog is a reflection of her bold decisions made about a year ago that led her to this very moment. It is a collection of the lessons learnt along her journey. Enjoy!

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