Decades ago, on my first day in uniform as a fresh-faced 18-year-old police officer, a colleague gave me this advice: “trust your instincts”.
Little did I realise that those words would shape who I would become. I quickly became a little less fresh-faced as I learned to build a rapport with people, by combining instinct with life experience, often in traumatic or dangerous situations. Whilst my life as a lawyer couldn’t be further from my days in the police service, those words have stayed with me.
People tend to surround themselves with like-minded souls and only do things within their comfort zone. Whilst this approach is understandable, it can be career and even life experience limiting. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have many incredible mentors and am humbled by the time that they have taken to listen and help me. I had a lot of trauma in my early childhood which left me distrustful and closed off. However, with the support of my mentors, I learned to have the confidence to be open to new challenges and experiences. This gave me the courage to leave Australia and move to Moscow as a young lawyer. Since that time, I have continued to push myself and actively try to support and mentor others, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Years ago, I stumbled across “The Adventurists” a travel company promoting itself as a “generator of odysseys and chaos”. As a keen motorcyclist and an even keener participant in odysseys and chaos, I signed up to their “Monkey Run” through Morocco. This would require cajoling a 48cc mini motorbike (or “monkey” bike) through the Atlas Mountains, traversing 800km in seven days whilst raising money for charity. The organisers promised that we would follow “the Un-route…a simple adventuring philosophy. Dictating a route to be blindly followed would suck the adventure from your soul”.
I committed myself to experience Morocco with nothing more than a map and what little equipment I could carry on the most unsuitable bike in the most unsuitable terrain. Naturally, it made sense to do this dressed as a monkey. A friend crafted my costume and I was resplendent for perhaps two hours, with my monkey tail sewn on to a jumpsuit, monkey “hair” superglued to a pair of boots and my impressive helmet, complete with a Fez.
On New Year’s Day 2018, we set off from a secret desert oasis in the Sahara near Algeria. A few hours later I was stuck in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, using the medium of interpretive dance to try and convince a mechanic to swap a blown tyre on my bike with one from his wheelbarrow. The magic of communicating with smiles, laughter, and cutting some impeccable “wheelbarrow” shapes helped overcome the frustration of breaking down, being unsure of where I’d sleep that night, and realising that it wasn’t all fun and games that lay ahead.
By day three, I was exhausted and wondering if I’d make it to the finish line near Marrakesh. I was travelling on my own, due to being the “adventurer” to break down EVERY single day. I used a permanent marker on my arms to write words in French and Arabic such as “left”, “right” and “help” to assist me in finding my way to the next town. Gaffa taping my suit together in a stranger’s house became an amusing bonding ritual with the kind and generous locals.
Stopping to refuel in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, a Columbian family approached me as I limped off my monkey bike. Confused by the sight that greeted them they asked me what I was doing. My explanation didn’t seem to help…..so I gave them a business card, scribbling on it “Monkey Run-The Adventurists” for them to Google.
I was the first female across the line, becoming the proud winner of the coveted “Spirit of the Monkey” award, returning home both exhausted and elated. However, participating in the Monkey Run provided me with so much more than an adventure – it provided me with an unexpected but extremely rewarding opportunity to become a mentor.
A few weeks after my return to Jersey, I received an email from Stephanie Grisales, one of the members of the family I’d given my card to at that Moroccan petrol station. Stephanie explained that she was a law student in Italy and wrote:-
“You made me understand that not everything in life has to be squared. It was surprising to me to find you in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, doing a race to get money to help people. It was even more surprising for me when I saw your position and your work: A LAWYER DOING THIS?? With my little experience, I understood that life is not for earning money, life is about being real, kind, and humble and that is what I saw that day and is all I want to be in my life.”
Her perspective inspired me. Stephanie and I have remained in contact since our peculiar encounter. I’ve followed her achievements and tried to offer advice and support where I can. I was very proud to see her finish her law degree and move to Dubai, where she’s now completing her Masters.
Mentoring involves encouraging others to encounter new challenges and experiences by having the courage to take that step out of their comfort zone. Above all, it’s having a belief in that person to support them to grow whilst remaining true to themselves and always following their instincts.
It’s wonderful to appreciate that a chance meeting with a stranger could lead to the friendship I now enjoy with Stephanie. I am genuinely excited to watch her career and life unfold. I now realise how rewarding it is to play even the smallest role in someone’s life or career, and to know that to touch the heart is to affect change and to stir the imagination is to inspire action.