Building A Support Team.....

Do you have a support system? After doing some study this week, I pretty much realized that I do not have a solid support system and I need one. The ability to learn how to develop one is not only a much needed skill, but something I truly want. I want to not only have a support system, but to be an intricate part of other support systems. So I took the time to make two lists. One list was of current important relationships and one was of past important relationships. And there came the challenge. My most important relationship is with my husband and even though that relationship is changing, it still is my most important relationship and has been for almost two decades. But I will say that I am not sure how supportive it really is. I don't think that any relationship can be strong and supportive if only one person is interested in that and is uncommunicative. Rob is important to me for so many reasons. His strength and positive energy I have found supportive in times of trouble and confusion. His smile has always been a constant and it has never failed to give me a joyful lift every time I see it. I look to him for someone that I trust to talk to, to help solve problems, and as a friend. That relationship is clearly changing as we go through the beginning process of divorce and my husband works on changing the relationship. So I am at the beginning of developing a new life path and I have the wonderful opportunity to be able to learn and actively develop a new support system to help with that. What a cool thing!

My family of origin has had a lot of influence in my development as a person and as a leader. How much of my emotional and physical development that can be easily pushed onto my family, my original personality, society, etc... I do not know and I don't think that really dissecting it in the past has really done much but cause blame and anger. Needless to say, I left my parent's (almost said mother's -that' blaming I think :) home at eighteen years old with very little confidence in myself and with few marketable skills besides the motivation to please and a high energy level that allowed me to perform work faster than the average bear. I think that I carry almost literally the heavy burden of emotion and experience of the past on my shoulders. If I was to try and decide the role that my family played in my growing as a leader, I think that I would need to re-frame it. I think what I can do is to say that I learned to survive and to depend on myself. I learned to appreciate caring friends and I learned to understand and be more tolerant of differences and mental illness. These skills have served me well in my life and have really taught me an understanding, compassion, and service for other people that I think I wouldn't have gained any other way. A diagnosis is no longer something to fear... it's just a silly label and it doesn't change who the person is, what they think and feel, or in most ways what they need. So I am willing to step forward to help others that many people do not feel comfortable spending time with and I can laugh and become friends with someone and not focus on their 'labels.' One thing that I learned from my family is to please others and I am trying to find a medium ground where I please others, but I do not harm myself in the doing. I think that my genuine understanding and re-framing of my past family experiences can show me the positive aspects of the skills that I learned and help me to also grow and learn from the difficulties that I see people still struggling with in my family.

This might sound a little bit of a cope out, but I do not feel like I have any really important relationships in the past that was truly influential over a period of time in a positive way. I can think of many people that had influenced me for short periods of time and mostly in positive, 'friendship' ways. Maybe in some ways I am still seeing the term leadership in too rigid a construct. Friends do help me to learn how to be a better leader by being a leader in my own life. My friend Katey has been very influential in helping me to be introspective in a way that is positive and can sustain growth. She has helped my confidence and she always is willing to say the hard things- if she needs to tell me something hurtful that is useful, she will do it. How many people have such a real true friend? Katey has been instrumental in helping me keep my mental health in my current life situation and my ability to laugh and see many things in a positive light. I think that she will be an important part of my support system as I move forward.

I have mentioned before that I do not think I have really had any mentors... at least not in the sense of what the word means to me. One person that pops into my mind is a friend of mine who died a few years ago. Her name was Sarah Drew and she was sixty years older than me. I met her at church and she became my closest friend and confidant for many years. In some ways, I think she does count as a mentor as I did tend to take her advice when it was given and she also taught me how to survive through really difficult situations. She was a child of divorce and the Great Depression, had three divorces herself, four children and a nursing career. She was a wonderfully caring person. She would let me know that I needed to stand up for myself... and she was willing to stand up to people a lot bigger than her to protect me. She could be quite fierce when people were intolerant and mean and I will always miss her... and I wish I could have been closer to her age so we would have more time together. I think there are a few ways that she helped me develop important skills. She helped me to develop strength and stamina in adversity and there were many times I might have stopped coming to church without her loyal and calming influence. She helped me to learn that family was what you made of it and not necessarily what you were born with – my son still misses Gram Sarah. She would listen to me, give advice, and support me in my trials.... and I would give her rides to church and to appointments and help her to accomplish the things that mattered to her... but she wasn't physically able to do anymore. Our relationship has ended in this life and I will not see her again in the flesh, but I still find that some of the things she told me still inspire me today. I sometimes modify my behavior remembering things that were important to her and how she would want me to behave. It helps me to look stronger in my difficulties and helps me to find humor and joy in even the really yucky things.

I am not sure I would still be alive much less still be in college and working without my friends. I know which friends I can count on now due to my current situation and yes, my list has definitely whittled down and has fewer names on it. But those friends have been tested through the fire of my current challenges... and have stayed. I think I can depend on them for anything. While there are only five of them (and they know who they are :) A few of them will give me honest feedback and I can share everything- I will say that while I know I can share, I find it difficult to do so. It's truly a flaw in me and not my close friends. One of my close friends has been close to me for six years or maybe a little more. Some of the qualities that I think I bring to that relationship are compassion and love, energy, a blending of strengths and weaknesses and personalities that really seem to crave each other. I am a lousy cook and she is not and loves to cook. I love to weed... and she doesn't really find that really enjoyable. We can discuss the really hurtful things in our lives and know that neither of us will be rejected no matter what. She is safe in so many ways and has made my life more full and joyful. I can think of a friendship with someone else that did not work out for me and has in fact changed my whole life. I can think of a few things that I would have done differently. I do not think I was tolerant or understanding in the way I needed to be. I think that I needed to understand that she just couldn't trust anyone and so I shouldn't have felt so threatened. I should have believed in myself more and understood. I also should have helped to keep rigid boundaries so that the friendship could continue to thrive. That said, I learned a lot and it appears that no matter what I gave that relationship, my friendship was easily thrown away... so I don't think that it was a good friendship no matter what I did or did not do. But it was a lesson learned and I learned it in a big way. :)

I have never had or thought about having a personal support group. I will say that I think I need to contemplate it. It sounds like a great idea in my current situation. My son had a support group at one point and I will admit that it didn't really work... but I am not sure that was the group's fault. If I had a support group, I would run it in many of the same ways. I would have five members and I would have us set goals for myself over the next few years. We would meet and work together to help me move forward through my current trials. I would like to potentially add a few members that do not think exactly like me so they could have a different perspective on my situation. I have so much going on in my life right now- it would be nice to have others to clap me on the shoulder and help me with confidence and with making priorities. Being surrounded by people who genuinely want me to succeed and were willing to help me work towards it would be quite a gift.

I am currently actually working on building a professional support network in the job that I just managed to land/get hired. I am now working on developing relationships with other postal employees so that I can call when I have questions and hopefully increase the amount of hours that I can get. I have been driving to close post offices to introduce myself and I have been working hard to show my flexibility and to develop relationships that are positive with my co-workers. The relationships are not close, but I am hoping that they will become a good network that I can receive help from, but I can also provide help for. I would include the few employees in my post office but also a few employees for the other close post offices. I am also a BLS instructor and I have been trying to figure out how to develop a network that can make that job more stable and consistent for me. Figuring out how to network this job is really hard as it really is a lot like self employment. I need to sell myself against other people in the same job with very little work available in my area. What I have been doing is making fliers and hanging them up and faxing the fliers to a list of businesses that I have slowly accumulated numbers for and sometimes that is helpful and people call me and I get work. I would love to get a networking group together where we could work together to help each other get business. I will admit that I am not sure how to do that- I have been working alone for quite a while. But I think this is a good idea... and I think I need to try it! I would need someone from my training center as they could help me find clients, someone who works in the school system and maybe even someone who works for licensing for the state. Seems like a tall order but I do think it is doable...

I am not really sure about the idea of a board of directors for my personal life. Would it make my life less chaotic and crazy? : D Anyway, I guess I do not really understand the question because I am not really sure that I understand how a board of directors is really a lot different from a support group. Is it basically that a board of directors has more authority to get things done. So if I thought something was good and the rest of the group didn't... they could overrule me whereas a support group can give advice but I can totally ignore it...? It that was the case, I think there would be many positive and negative experiences with a board of directors. If I was too focused on something and couldn't see the pitfalls, the board members could actually force me to look at other viewpoints which might be good... or bad if they were wrong. Other good points would be the variety of experience and backgrounds that could bring more ideas and diversity to my life. I have closed so many aspects of my life up and having a group of people that could in some ways force me to be more open would be horribly scary... but I might really find that it would be positive for me and my life experience. I think that I would like to have a group that is stronger than a support group, but has a little less power than a board of directors. We could work as a group to help me move forward, but everyone could agree to some work or tasks and would be held accountable to the group... but mistakes or life happens and the accountability would be personal and in the group. I wouldn't want harsh accountability or authority because that might make people feel like they should be more accountable to my group then those other people and trials in their lives. That is why (in my opinion) corporations have a board of directors and the rest of us have support groups. Because corporations out of necessity try and get their employees to give everything to them... and that the employee's personal life is very much second. In a support group, everyone is important and your presence and how you feel and your experiences matter. If you are having personal problems that interfere with your attendance or participation in a support group, people are concerned and will try to help. In my experience, if your personal problems affect your job as a board member, you have very little leeway and you are very likely to lose your job or other negative consequences. The idea of creating a unit with traits of both groups is very attractive and I will take some time to think about it.

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