Building my practice around self mentoring – especially when having had to self-mentor myself through some exciting challenges by Marsha Carr (guest)


Being honest with yourself as a form of self mentoring! 

When I first wrote about self-mentoring five years ago, I was just beginning an interesting journey that chose me and has been leading the way ever since. I am the developer of the practice of self-mentoring. I own the registered trademark so by business standards, it belongs to me. It belongs to me because I lived it – I used self-mentoring to survive. I now run a successful start-up that focuses on the delivery of self-mentoring to countless individuals in and outside of the United States.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Here is my story…

Those early months during my first year were instrumental in my success

“I am a survivor”. I survived my first year in a new profession, a new position, and what I perceived as a hostile environment. I not only survived it, but I was successful in finding my passion while meeting my expectations. I look back now and realize that those early months during my first year were more instrumental in my success than I ever anticipated.  How often, as a society, do we monitor the daily operations during the first several months of an incoming president in office? These are the impressionable months where opinions are developed and scrutiny surfaces. I was not a stranger to public inspection.

After serving for 30 years in public and private education, the last decade as a school superintendent in the US, I was ready for a change. During this ten-year administrative span, I served under the direction of nine different boards, and developed a strong central office administrative team. As the first female superintendent hired in the county, I worked a minimum of 80-hours per week, which included many public engagements that absorbed my weekends. I lived for my job. There was literally no time for anything outside of this routine.

As my contract came to a close, I was ready for a new role that included a decrease in work hours and less politics, something more time-manageable with added rewards and incentives. After reading a Forbes Magazine 2014 Internet poll rating a college professor as the least stressful employment position in the US, I decided upon higher education.

I packed up and moved three states away from my former residence to a warmer climate and a new culture. I swapped the North for the South. It was exhilarating. Happy to find a sanctuary from the public eye as an administrator, I wanted obscurity in my new environment. I wanted to be inconspicuous – I was going to be an invisible leader.

Reading for this new adventure

I was so ready for this new adventure that I cast aside all my years of leadership experience and saw my future only in a positive light, neglecting to recognize the imposing dark clouds that loomed in the distance.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted with smiles and warm welcomes and quickly assigned a mentor. My mentor, by all standards, was exceptional as a decorated sage with an expert track record in publishing, speaking, teaching, and research. He was funny and personable. I absolutely treasured him. However, despite my mentor’s exceptional qualifications and my past leadership experiences, there was a chasm that could not be bridged over time. As talented as my mentor was, he had been in higher education his entire career and I came from a different world, one that practically spoke a different language.

The challenge felt insurmountable at times.

Within just months of my hiring, the department chair vacated the position and for the remainder of the academic year, our department fell under the guidance of the dean who, while extremely capable and competent, was already overwhelmed with duties. And to compound the situation, I recognized shortly after my arrival that two existing factions within our small department were in silent war. One faction hired me. This angered the other faction, who then, before my arrival, attempted to thwart my final employment.

As each barrier was revealed, I wanted to become less and less visible in reaction to the turmoil of my surroundings. I was no longer in a friendly environment and I was terrified, not knowing in whom I could trust. I was suddenly alone in a foreign land. I was reminded of the scene in the movie, Titantic, when Leonardo DiCaprio was holding onto the floating headboard that kept Kate Winslet adrift and safe from the freezing waters but would inevitably contribute to his death. I was his character, Jack Dawson, and my demise was imminent. To have any chance of survival, I would have to find my own headboard if I were to persevere (or push Kate aside and take hers??).

Assessing my skills as a leader, I called upon my strengths. What skills would benefit me the most and what were the impediments?  I did what I knew best – I organized. I looked beyond my oppressing walls and called upon my prior experiences to formalize a plan.

Taking action from a position of strength

In the first semester after my arrival, I had to create two courses from scratch using an online platform of which I had no familiarity. Terrified to reach out to anyone but my mentor, whom I learned didn’t teach online and was without the means to provide assistance, I called upon university services and attended trainings during the year to ensure that I was a stronger online developer and facilitator in future courses.

To battle my inadequacies in research, I reached out to others in the field that were successful and shared my passion. I spent the year establishing an external network and resource chain to help me navigate within this new environment that was very different than I anticipated and quite foreign to my leadership training. I spent as many hours reflecting on my writing and direction as I did in the company of others who provided different perspectives and shared their wisdom.

One of my early encounters was with a veteran professor from a neighboring university who was amenable to professional conversations. Within one year, I co-authored a book under his guidance. I soon realized that I had the skills to maneuver within my environment and manage my own personal development. Still, other weaknesses surfaced. I was without departmental support, so networking opportunities with local administrators and other necessary supports that were provided to other colleagues were not available to me.

I had to create my own opportunities – no one was going to hand me anything. And so self-mentoring evolved like a phoenix from the ashes of despair.

My passion to succeed

Self-mentoring grew from a seed of necessity – my passion to succeed. My first presentation on self-mentoring was so well received that I began presenting and sharing my journey with others who were piqued with curiosity. I realized I was not alone. There were countless individuals with similar stories who felt that self-mentoring could be the headboard that Jack Dawson needed for survival.

“Individuals, attending my presentations, wanted to know how they could learn to self-mentor. At the time, I didn’t know the answer, but I was willing to explore the possibilities. I conducted a pilot study in a local, interested school district. This first study focused on a small group of volunteer teachers. The group spent a year learning about self-mentoring and implementing it under my tutelage. In turn, I was permitted to collect data, analyze the results and determine if self-mentoring was an efficacious practice. The results of the study were startling, even to me and suggested that self-mentoring increased confidence and augmented self-efficacy among teachers in and out of the classroom.  There were other influences but these remunerations were more individualized and could not be identified as established patterns without additional support. I celebrated. But I needed more evidence, so additional studies began immediately. And over the years, self-mentoring has emerged as a viable support to mentoring and coaching as well as the perfect practice for some who want to go it alone.” (excerpt from Self-Mentoring: The Invisible Leader).

So, we might ask? What exactly is self-mentoring? For technical purposes, self-mentoring is an individual of any age, profession, gender, race, or ability – YOU – willing to initiate and accept responsibility for self-development by devoting time to navigate within the culture of the environment in order to make the most of the opportunity to strengthen competencies needed to enhance job performance and career progression.

Self-mentoring is simply you ‘coaching’ yourself to achieve your goals.

There is nothing more rewarding than to believe in what you do and know that it benefits others that share your struggles and frustrations.

I love my role in life.

I give others confidence to achieve their goals. I don’t teach them how to reach their goals – I simply share a process that promotes confidence and self-efficacy. That is my gift to others! That is my gift to the world!

To connect with Marsha Carr

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Marsha L. Carr serves as Interim Chair of the Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Marsha previously served as a superintendent of schools in West Virginia. Presently Carr leads research and serves as an international consultant in self-mentoring®, a leadership development program she designed and trademarked.

For her work in self-mentoring, she received the 2015 UNCW Entrepreneur Start-Up Award and the 2016 NC Coastal Entrepreneur Award for professional Service. She is the author of numerous books on self-mentoring that include, Self-Mentoring: The Invisible Leader (also in Spanish).

Marsha can be reached at or twitter: selfmentoring

Carr, Marsha (2015), Self-mentoringTM: The Invisible Leader, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform