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There is an old cliche quote that says, “Behind every great man is a woman” with a host of addendum on the end to fit the specific situation. While I don’t dispute this, except to say that it also works the other way, there are times in our lives and career when we must be self-sustaining. There are times when the support of a spouse simply isn’t available for a host of reasons. It is in these times that we can all “fall down” and find our careers mired in the mud only because we simply don’t have enough individual energy to move us forward. Sometimes, we all need a cheerleader on the sidelines. Without them, something can seem dramatically absent from our lives and our work.
I am mainly talking about spouses, of all sorts, in this column, as this is my own experience. Close friends and family can also be “sustainers” in your career and their absence can be just as damaging. “Sustainers” help us through the rough spots in our careers by providing advice, support, wisdom and, most importantly, their energy. We all have an ebb and flow to our personal and work energy and sustainers help us get through the low spots without foundering on the rocks of sleep and self-doubt.
Sustainers can be absent from our lives for a number of reasons, even though they may be physically present. Often there is simply a lack of interest in the careers of our spouses. In my relationship, my wife has no great interest in careers, technology or new media — three of my greatest interests and also where I focus the majority of my work. This lack of interest doesn’t stem from malice, but rather the fact that she has her own busy career in television writing and now, as a university educator. Second, she is not terribly enthralled with any of my career interests. This is probably quite common in many relationships. We don’t always have to love everything our partner does.
This means, though, that we must each be self-sustaining in our own, individual careers. We may support each other emotionally and physically, but we need to look elsewhere for our career support. Usually we have to look inwards. We have to be able to push on when the writing isn’t going well. We have to find our own reasons to continue working on a new project. We need to find our own ways of keeping our energy going, even when we might rather take a nap.
The trouble, of course, is that we only have so much energy, so much willpower, so much creativity and, without a sustainer to help us, we can fall down. I am sure this has happened to you, just as it has happened to me. We can fall into a pit where nothing seems important enough to work on — nothing seems worth the effort — or, as in my case, nothing is more important than sleep. It can be very tiring to be your sole, best, cheerleader and nearly impossible to maintain for long periods.
So, what do you do when you need a sustainer in your life? You go and find one. I have several groups of like-minded folks I meet with regularly for specifically this reason. My New Media Interchange and New Media Mastermind groups help me explore that area of my work, BarCampLA and LA Geek Dinners feed the technology side and Tuesdays with Transitioners gives me a place to discuss career issues. I need these groups, and the conversation they bring, to keep me moving forward, give me a place to vent my frustration and get a little cheerleading from my companions.
Don’t be surprised, or dismayed, to find that you are having trouble sustaining your own energy about your work. It is a common problem, but the solutions are just as common. If, due to a difference in interests, lack of time or other issue, your spouse can’t provide you the support you need, reach out to friends, family and fellow interested people to keep your interest and energy at a productive level. We all need a cheerleader in our lives and sometimes we have to go out and find them.
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