Following 25 successful years of work in plumbing, Peter Lynch decided to change direction, enrolling in a Bachelor of Science and Business as a mature-aged student. But making career decisions in your 50s comes with a unique set of challenges. Peter was paired with Pat Nixon – and for good reason. Changing direction requires a road map, and who better to assist him than someone who has taken the path before?
Mentee: Peter Lynch
University of the Sunshine Coast
I was a self-employed plumber at age 21, which I really enjoyed. But, as age started to catch up with me, I worked in supervisory roles and realised my skills were a lot broader. I didn’t have the academic rigour to get to where I wanted to go, so at the same time I sent my daughter to university, I went with her.
I enrolled in a dual business and science degree. I didn’t expect to return to the water industry, but I went on an overseas exchange studying Norwegian water cycles and the experience really whet my appetite. On returning, I joined the Australian Water Association and shortly after signed up for the Mentoring Program.
My intention was to be an economist within the water sector, but I wanted to learn more about the industry. By joining the program, I wanted to find out whether the career path I wanted would be available to me at this stage in my career. Pat has such a broad understanding of the industry, and was able to identify which parts of the water industry might offer opportunities for me. Pat encouraged me to be really specific about what I want to do, as I expect I’ll only be working in the industry for another 15 years.
Pat made me feel very comfortable; he allowed me to take my own direction with our meetings. He explained to me that he had been a mature-aged student too. Like me, he had done a few other things before he went to university. I think the team who matched us up did a great job. There was definitely a connection in how we thought and felt about things.
After our second meeting, I was able to express some insecurities about my current position. Everyone puts on a front, but I was trying to get the most out of the mentoring relationship. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I also think that us being the same age was an advantage. I felt like Pat’s experience provided insight into my career, so I didn’t need to explain to Pat the different perspective that I take. We both see all this as about the learning.
We also discussed my personality. I was encouraged to speak to my last manager and ask for some frank and fearless feedback on how I work. That was great, but also a bit humbling. Pat and I discussed all of these things to ensure that, at each step in my learning and networking, I was doing it as authentically as possible. We wanted to make sure I got the most value out of prospecting opportunities. I learned a lot from him. I’m sure Pat has got outstanding engineering skills, but his people skills were what really impressed me.
The Mentoring Program is really different to the university culture. My experience with the program is that it’s really about self-improvement. I think I’ll be applying my learning from the program towards my intuition about job selection, as I now have a broader understanding of the industry. I’m also thinking about doing my master’s by research, which I hadn’t considered before.
It’s been really great to get advice on where I am heading from a source who’s not critical to my immediate career. Disagreeing with a more senior work colleague might appear confrontational, but our mentoring relationship allowed me the opportunity to learn, test and examine. It was a really unique opportunity to grow professionally.
Mentor: Pat Nixon
For me, the key thing with mentoring is that you get more out of it the more you put into it. I derive satisfaction out of learning and passing on useful things, so when one of the organisers of the Australian Water Association Mentoring Program approached me, I thought: why not?
Peter and I were matched based on my areas of experience and what he indicated he wanted to gain from the program. Peter was part of the water industry, but he was in a part of the industry that wasn’t particularly aligned with where he wanted to go. The types of things I was able to discuss with him were my understanding of the different components of the industry, as well as various work-life balances within different parts of the industry, which was useful for him.
A lot of people are blinkered by the positions that they’re currently in and don’t have an easy way of appreciating the breadth of the water industry. I think this limits their opportunities. I explained to Peter that there are many options: he could be a contractor or a consultant, or he could work for the government or in research, which might cover one or more areas. What he needed was to work out what he wanted to do with his career going forward. Then I helped him map out the opportunities he’d need to chase in order to achieve what it was that he was after.
Peter was the first mature-age person that I mentored in this way. He came with life experiences and that gave him certain perspectives, but also certain behaviours that may or may have not been appropriate for the area that he aspired to go into.
There were some behaviours that we had to question: ‘Well, do you think that is going to work in the new environment that you want to go into?’ We discussed how doing a little bit of negotiating and socialising initially can help to make sure that everyone was going to get something out of the work or project. For Peter, we were trying to fast-track his career development.
The mentor program helped me relearn some things, too. When mentoring younger people before, I was always the older, experienced one, with the younger-older dynamic at play there. But with Peter, we were both the same age.
We had had different life experiences, but we were able to talk about them. It allowed me to communicate on a different level with someone who had more of an affinity with the journey I’ve had. It also made me stop and check myself to make sure I wasn’t projecting certain things onto our interactions, particularly ways of communicating with people from another generation.
I have no hesitation in recommending that people of all ages get involved in mentoring. The people who are going to benefit the most from it are those who have already done a little introspection and have realised they need to develop to achieve their desired outcome.
A mentor can guide, provide advice and help along the journey. If you are in a situation where you know something is missing but you don’t quite know what it is, then the Mentoring Program presents a great opportunity.
To get involved in the Australian Water Association’s mentoring program, contact your local branch.