Why you have to build and maintain a personal support system.

You face a lot of challenges in your career, and having a good support system can make getting through them a lot easier. But we all battle insecurity, have less support as we grow our career, experience compassion fatigue, and so much more. In this episode, we will look at why we struggle to keep a support system through our career, the 4 parts of a good support system, and how you can start building one that can help you.

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If you are listening to this show as it’s released then it is just after the holidays which got me thinking because pretty much everyone talked about how good it was to have a break, recharge and get back in touch with how we are doing. Why do we do this and why does it take a forced break for us to do this? And why am I so guilty of it too?

On the surface, we think that the holidays give us is time with friends and family but it is more than that. It gives us a mental and emotional support system with time for us to care for ourselves. I also recently spent a few days in California at the Bureau of Digital’s Design Leadership Camp which lets a small group of design leaders get together and discuss the stresses of the position.

This is something I struggle with all the time as I don’t think we know how much I need a break or support until I have some time off or am around some of my peers in s setting where we can all be open and honest. Like some of the past episodes, I also want to be honest about my journey through this subject as it only seems right as I keep asking you all to do the same.

In this episode, we will dig into
• why we struggle to keep a support system
• the 4 parts of a good support system
• how you can start building one to help you.

Why we struggle.

As I started to dig into this with my friends, people I coach and even myself I realized just how bad we are creating and maintaining a support system and when I’ve asked people why they don’t do it more I get answers like
• I don’t have time.
• When I have a problem I know I should talk to someone but I don’t know what to say
​• It’s been so long since I’ve talked to them I don’t want to start back this way
​• It will be awkward.
​• They’re probably too busy.
• I don’t want to intrude on their life.

Distance, time, work and life
The simplest reason is that we are all crazy busy, the people we turn to may be spread out all over the world, we are slammed at work and we have tons of things going on in our lives. It is easy to see why we put ourselves second and can lose touch with what is going on with ourselves.

You naturally have less support as you grow your career
You can’t share your problems with your team as you will freak them out
You don’t want to share with your boss for fear of being seen as not being good at your job. Can share with friends or significant other but that gets you empathy, not real solutions. You have a good job or the position you have been working for so you network less. You read a book and listen to podcasts but they tend to be so generic they don’t really help since it requires you to figure out to apply the information effectively. All of this adds up to you getting closed off from support and actionable advice

Your built-in insecurity
Every creative is insecure and not sure they are doing it right. Coupled with the fact that we don’t see anyone else who we can directly copy. This means we all have built-in insecurity. That often keeps us from asking for help or saying we are struggling until it is too late.

Culture of success through self-destruction
We are increasingly led to believe that success is something that needs to be achieved by any means, all on our own, giving up whatever we need to and be these robotic go-getters with all the answers. This destructive success porn bullshit has to stop.

Compassion fatigue
If you are someone who tries to help others then this support system also becomes critical because after a while you can start to suffer from something called compassion fatigue. I see it a ton in people in leadership positions and I recently realized it affects me. It means that you give so much to others, and you put yourself second so much that it wears you out. All your energy is going out and you get almost none in return which wears you out.

We are our own biggest blind spot
We are all so good at giving other people advice and pinpoint where they can grow or need help. Damn if none of that works when we have to use it on ourselves. We are our own biggest blindspot and because of cognitive bias, insecurity and everything else we can not see how others see us. This is why we need people who will tell us the truth, pick us up and help us have some perspective which may be one of the greatest of all superpowers.

We all carry debt.

These are all the forces that make it difficult for me and for us to take care of ourselves or to know when it ask for help. But in recent discuss with Aarron Walter he said something that I think crystalizes all of this in a way I have never thought of. Our work and lives create a mental and emotional debt and weight we all carry with us that is why we need a support system.

Institutional debt
• Our companies
• Our experience, successes and failures narrows our focus
• If we can’t relieve this debt then it builds up to the point where to blinds or crushes us.

Emotional debt
• Our insecurities
• The more you are responsible for the more you worry, stress and doubt yourself

Professional debt
• Strengths and weaknesses of our career and skills
• Everything is always changing and we feel the stress to change with it.

Its how this weight builds up that causes problems, creates isolation and stress.

4 parts of a good support system

So now that we understand the problem and hopefully have a new understanding of why we need to be more diligent about creating a support system – what does a good look like and contain?

It needs to be made up of people who are truth-tellers who will call your bluff when needed, offer honest feedback without you getting angry, and help you stay or get back on track.

With no one holding you accountable, progress can be difficult to impossible. This is because without people who know you and will tell the truth you can start to justify your behavior, spinning the truth, and trying to make you feel better instead of getting to the heart of the problem.

Accountability has been shown to work in a variety of programs, including diet, exercise, addiction, and mental health. It is easy to disappoint yourself but by answering to someone else, you are more likely to make real progress.

A healthy support system includes a group of others who can relate to your circumstances and experiences. Fellowship simply means gathering with people who share similar beliefs, thoughts, and experiences that you do to improve your life.

I have found that I like to have a variety of people in my support system. I like some people who do exactly what I do so we can dig into very specific problems ad I can get alternative approaches and views. The danger here is that you focus on progress and not just complaining about how what you do and why it is difficult.

But I also like people who do completely different things but we can call talk about the creative condition at a very high level. These are people like successful photographers, tattoo artists, street artists, chefs and more. The point is to gather with like-minded individuals who you trust and will be honest to offer understanding and encouragement.

A healthy support system includes resources that can offer you information about your issues. The more knowledge you have a deal with the problem. The trick is to seek out people who have been through it before and can offer real insights and advice. Too many of us just seek out friends and that often gives you the ability to commiserate but very few tools or advice you can really use.

Education is like ammunition that can help defend you from the things that will stop you from improving. If you know triggers, resources, and positive outlets then you will be well-armed to move forward.

A healthy support system includes your sense of purpose. What is the reason you need a support system? Maybe it is to work on something you keep struggling with. Maybe it is to be a better boss or co-worker. Maybe you want to complete a job or project.

Everyone has a purpose in life. Finding your purpose will enable you to stay focused and give you a reason to keep working. This goes back to my constant talk about your need to build our brand and understand who you are.

Purpose directs you to make positive changes in your life, ones that will help you accomplish your goals. It acts as a guide or compass for when life happens and thinking becomes unclear. When this happens, you can redirect your thoughts so they are pointing towards your purpose, making you move away from negative interruptions, regroup and get back on track.

Where do you start?

Get clear on what you want and set some goals.
Take time to think about what it is you need help with. Do you want a mentor with experience or a peer who is going through the same challenges? Do you want perspective on a personal or emotional problem? Ask yourself what kind of support you need from your support team. What are your goals? If the problem seems huge then break it down into smaller parts

List all the resources that are available to you right now.
You probably have many more resources available to you than you realize. It’s good to have a few types of support.

Mental supporters – people who you can talk to that keep your head in the right place.

Mentor and coach – someone who can help guide you, give you professional advice and give you specific feedback

Accountability buddies – people who you share your goals with and they will hold you accountable to them

Tell people how they can help; be brief and specific.
If you want something from someone, it best to ask for it specifically, or you are not likely to get what you want. The same goes for support. Ask specifically for what you want from someone else! This requires you to think through what would be helpful before you have the conversation.

Be patient with yourself and with them
Most people are awkward and intimidated when making changes in behavior. Be patient with people who want to be supportive but don’t have the skills yet to pull it off exactly in the way that you need or wish. Just like you, they may need some time, and some guidance to get it right.

Support systems are only effective if you use them.
Now that you’ve asked for help if someone calls, texts or emails, etc to provide that support, respond to them! Sometimes that may be easy, other times it may be very difficult. The more you can push yourself to stay connected, the more you can benefit from their support.

What do you do if you are having a bad day, and just can’t bear to talk with anyone? Text, email or call them back and say ”thanks for reaching out. I need the day to get my thoughts together but I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Use structure until it becomes more natural
Schedule time every month with a small group of people you trust to check-in, get and advice

Final thought

Support systems only work if you use them.

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