If you want to know what mentorship really means, I know a woman.

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A journal Lauren gifted me in 2018

This week has been shit. This week has also been, in some ways, pure love.

On Tuesday, October 29, Lauren Brown passed away at age 37 (her birthday was two months earlier, in August). Breast cancer killed her, but to me, and so many people, she is still so alive.

Lauren was invincibly fierce. She was hilarious, and obsessed with bunnies. She unlocked the door when I was sitting in the office privacy room sobbing. She listened to my anxieties, then told me I needed to make a decision: grow up and face my fears, or live in perpetual uncertainty. She made me an adult. She Slacked me with crazy story ideas at two in the morning, and held me to them. She had impossibly high standards. She realized my ambitions.

Much has been written about Lauren since her passing, all of it true. Lauren was a founding editor at Quartz, the publication I used to work at. She was exceptional at her job, but she was even more exceptional at being a human being. As Quartz reporter Jenni Avins writes, “With Lauren, you were safe.” As Quartz co-founder and former editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney writes, “Lauren excelled at giving other people space to tell their stories.”

“You couldn’t care less if you were likable or not,” writes Quartz reporter Annalisa Merelli, your dear friend. “Liking is transient and easy anyway; your intensity belonged to the realm of deep love.”

This is so untouchably real. Lauren made me believe that anything was possible. She built confidence out of thin air. She never wasted her time.

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Lauren holding my pug, the first week I got him

When I told Lauren I was in the ER alone after a minor stomach incident—despite living much of her adult life with breast cancer—she was the first person to text me, asking to come sit by my side. She acknowledged how scared I must be without a glimpse of comparison. Lauren cared about Bachelor Nation just as much as I do. That’s saying a lot.

When I dressed my pug up as Yoda for Halloween, Lauren lost her mind. Just months earlier—depressed, 24, and fresh off a breakup—I told her I wanted to get a dog. I knew it was a financially irresponsible decision, but Lauren made sure it happened. She saw what other people needed, and she held them to it. She booked me Two Dope Queens tickets months after I’d quit Quartz, reminding me how I’d turned her on to the podcast.

She never forgot, anything really.

When I think of Lauren, I struggle with the word “mentor.” It feels hackneyed, commercialized, and commoditized. The word is insufficient for what she means to me, but she was absolutely that.

I could write endless words about Lauren, but it feels important to describe her mentorship. So many people want mentors, and so many people deserve them. I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Lauren was not my capital M-Mentor. We were not assigned via a program. No one asked her to pull me aside. Lauren’s work as my mentor was not explicitly rewarded. Much of it was invisible.

After hour texts, laughs, are you okays.

I’m not sure how to put this together, but if it’s helpful to anyone, below are my thoughts on what mentorship, as Lauren embodied it, really means.

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Lauren in Kazakhstan, photo via Caitlin Hu

Mentorship is not a means to an end, or an end in and of itself.

It’s not an age difference, or a one-way passage of wisdom.

Mentorship is not a company, or a program, or a monetized transfer of any kind.

It doesn’t fit on a slide deck.

It isn’t a branded computer sticker, or a tote bag.

Mentorship is not occasional words of encouragement, sent with endless exclamation points and hearts. Though sometimes, that helps.

It isn’t a job referral, or a letter of recommendation.

Mentorship is not easy or nice. Sometimes, it’s neither.

Especially if it’s coming from Lauren, mentorship is not “help.”

Mentorship is amorphous, and often invisible.

It’s hard, private, extra work. It’s rarely acknowledged by higher-ups. It’s never compensated.

Mentorship is showing up to work, as a 35 year-old woman, in patterned leather spandex, tall boots, or jean booty shorts, and saying nothing of it.

It’s “wear whatever you want, say what you believe, and stop questioning what everyone thinks of you.”

Mentorship is worrying about someone else before they worry about themselves.

It’s asking real questions when everyone else prefers “how was your weekend.”

Mentorship is showing someone what it means to take control of their own life, and believing that they can do it.

It’s listening, and knowing that with empathy, they can find themselves.

Mentorship isn’t saying the right way. It’s presenting options.

It’s windshield wipers in rain.

Mentorship isn’t afraid of being liked, or hurting feelings.

It’s a silent hug, and a follow up text three days later.

Mentorship is taking someone else’s needs to decision makers, and fighting for them as if they were your own.

It’s risking your reputation because you know someone is worth it.

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Mentorship is assignments you feel unqualified for, and “I told you so” when success is hard-earned.

It’s removing your byline from work you absolutely helped create, because you know someone else needs recognition more than you do.

Mentorship is quiet and slow burning. It’s soft, but often, it’s frustrating.

It’s seeing someone fail, knowing the struggle was preventable, and letting it happen anyway.

It’s accepting change.

Mentorship sneaks up on you. You don’t see it coming until it’s so much of who you are.

It’s relentless, aware, and never self-serving.

Mentorship is seeing someone right now, exactly as they are, and being okay with what they’ll become—whatever they’ll become.

Mentorship is a lot like love. And sometimes, when you’re really lucky, the difference is imperceptible.

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We love you.

Written by

Investor at NextView Ventures. Journalist. Thinking about gender, equality, and pugs. Formerly at Chief, Quartz, Slow, Bridgewater Associates, Middlebury.

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