There are levels to relationships. Sometimes, we place people in the wrong position because we act from a place of loneliness rather than self confidence. Sometimes, people think they are entitled to a position that they haven’t earned. Sometimes, people need to ride the bench for the season and others just need to get kicked off the roster. In all of this, we as individuals are responsible for putting people in their respective places the more we come to recognize who actually deserves our precious time and energy.
So, in this school journey no matter the level (and in life more generally), it’s of the upmost importance to consider who’s coming with you. In the words of the late Bernie Mac, who you wit?
People to intentionally bring with you
You. It seems obvious, but it’s really easy to check out of this whole process because of the constant pressure to essentially be something other than who you are. I was told my second year that I needed to adopt an in-class persona–I couldn’t make this up. Honestly, it wasn’t until my fourth year that I started to feel like I was “all there”, and it’s hard because I sometimes would walk into the building, sit in class and would just prefer to disappear. Bring yourself, your experiences, your language because you are an asset and you deserve to be there.
Mentors Near and Far. It was actually a mentor who I met at a conference a few years ago who mentioned to me the idea of establishing a squad. I have mentors in different departments, different schools in my city, across the country and at my fieldsite. Of course, this takes time to cultivate, but it’s extremely worth it. No single person can do everything for you–your advisor can’t be your therapist, life coach and academic wizard–so it would behoove you to diversify. I’ve had a lot of luck meeting mentors through conferences and applying directly to a sub-committe’s mentoring workshop. I highly, highly suggest this. I’ve had experiences where it’s just a one time thing, but other times there’s a real connection, and end up with a long-term mentor who you otherwise would not have met.
Sister Friends. I love my sister-friends. Most of these women are people I met in high school or undergrad, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. There’s something special about having people who’ve seen you in so many different situations who can remind you of how far you’ve come and can therefore call you out on your bs. The majority of these women are either pursuing higher education or are building their careers, so we can share the woes of adulting and get in a good kiki session all at the same time. An added bonus is that you have somewhere to go when you just need to get away. Most people are either in the city or on the East Coast, so it’s no biggie to hop on a bus and get away on a random weekend when need be. With that said, they are all super busy, so keeping in touch with the occasional text or phone call is important.
A Good Therapist. Therapy has been a really great exercise in helping me think about the things I unintentionally carry–like an invisible knapsack with all of the weight and none of the privilege. Finding a good person is kind of like dating. It takes time and patience, but it’s certainly worth it. This also stands true for working through your issues. It’s not a quick fix, but it is again, certainly worth it.
People Who Will Likely Show Up
The Haters. I truly believe that at some point your enemies will become your footstools, but when that happens, it’s important to handle the situation with grace and humility. These people may become your colleagues and the world is small. At some point, the people who did you wrong (for no apparent reason), might realize that you are not their enemy. Instead of naming what they did wrong and apologizing for their actions, they will find it easier to act as if nothing happened and smile at you when they see you in the computer lab. Smile back. Keep it moving. Repeat.
The Biters. Academia is not unlike any other profession or experience in every day life; people will beg borrow and/or steal to get what they want. Be mindful that there are those who need to be kept at a distance for the sake of protecting your project and your original thinking. I’ve personally experienced this issue with a peer, and I’ve also heard of this with professors taking the ideas of their students. Protect yourself and protect your work.
People to Leave Behind
The Refuse The most obvious here are people who don’t support you as a student or as a person. Sometimes, it’s worth a conversation to give them the opportunity to learn how their actions are effecting you. This works for some people, and with time and firm boundaries, they will adjust. Others will throw you under the bus and reiterate that since you’ve been in school for the majority of your life, you actually don’t know anything about the real world. The irony is not lost that this is often coming from people who have no experience with higher education, but I digress……They don’t deserve you and all the greatness that is to become of you.
So, take an assessment. Who’s coming with you this year? Do you need to work on expanding your circle or making it a bit smaller? If you are content with who you have close to you, how can you work to strengthen those relationships?