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Building A System That Supports You
To quote The Legend of Zelda: it’s dangerous to go alone. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. A cornerstone of success is community: surrounding yourself with people you can count on for advice and support as you navigate personal and professional development. Building a support system of peers, mentors, and advisers can help you get to where you need to be.
"We often don't realize how important it is to have a good support system, both personally and professionally," said Rio Salado College Adjunct Counseling Faculty Sarita Hammady. "A good support system includes people you feel you can trust, who you can look to for guidance and who will be positive influences in your life."
Take these factors into consideration as you put your support system dream team together.
Keep Your Commitments
A great way to form a support system is to display your ability to follow through and keep your commitments. This holds true on a professional as well as a personal level—mentors and networking contacts are going to be more willing to invest their time in you if you show that you’re serious and committed to achieving your goals
"Having a support system is about building relationships and so it is important to make sure that you cultivate the qualities in yourself that you are looking for in others," said Hammady.
Being able to graciously receive feedback is the make-it-or-break-it factor behind the success of your support system. You need to trust the people around you to give helpful feedback, and that trust goes both ways—people are less likely to tell you what they really think if you get too defensive or hurt whenever they provide constructive criticism. It’s important to remember that any feedback from peers and mentors are recommendations, not commands; you’re free to take or reject any advice. If someone in your support system offers feedback that is unhelpful or contrary to what you want to achieve, be grateful that they’re trying to help. And if you want to improve the quality of the feedback from your circle, be specific about the kind of feedback you want. Ask questions, point to exactly what you want to know, and set a narrow scope to keep their advice focused.
Much like keeping your commitments, you’ll also want to be a giver of feedback. The trick with good feedback is to be a great listener. Hear what they’re struggling with, consider their wants and needs, and stay on topic with practical advice that works for them—telling them what you’d do is rarely helpful (unless they specifically ask you) and usually ends up centering the conversation around yourself.
One of the most helpful voices to have in a support system is a mentor. Forming a mentor relationship can be very rewarding, especially if it’s someone who comes from the same field you’re in or has achieved a level of education or skill attainment you’re striving for. A mentor can give you candid, useful feedback that’s rooted in life experience—that’s the kind of hands-on, time-tested knowledge you can’t get out of a book or class.
Finding a mentor takes a bit of strategizing. Before seeking out a mentor, have a clear idea of your goals: What do you want to get out of this relationship? What do you hope to learn? Knowing what you need to grow your skill set will help you find the right person. Also be open to considering alternative viewpoints and finding your mentor in unconventional ways. A professional mentor may not be someone at the same company as you—they may be part of an adjacent field entirely.
Try New Things
To piggyback off our last point: finding a support system may require you to step out of your comfort zone. If you’re looking for academic support, consider going to clubs, joining honor societies, and college events. Attending these kinds of functions can connect you with fellow students, tutors, and educators who could become trusted members of your support system. Professional support can be found in a similar fashion: go to networking events, meetups, and happy hours. Always be open to meeting new people through other kinds of activities in venues that sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls "third places"—bookstores, clubs, sporting events, board game nights, karaoke, etc. Oldenburg defines third places as sources of community that aren’t tied to either family or work. The people you meet in these “third places” can become important members of your support network. Even the camaraderie of a bowling night or a weekend softball game can give you the peace of mind and perspective you need to make good decisions for your future.
Find Your People
Motivation can be contagious, so it’s important that you surround yourself with people who, even if they don’t share your specific goals, share your drive. A support system that constrains you or encourages you to settle for less than what you want isn’t healthy. "One of the best ways to find people who you might include in your support network is to get involved in things that interest you," said Hammady. Finding people who align with your interests and worldview (along with a few outliers to offer alternative perspectives) and challenge you is an important part of forming a strong support group.
Article by Austin Brietta