What you need: Supportive Family and Friends — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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Of all the features of a successful career, an abundance of supportive family and friends is high on the list. Life itself is enough of a struggle. Without the support of those around you, you will find it difficult to learn and grow in your life and your career. That said, supportive family and friends aren’t always to be found naturally. You may have to create, cultivate and convince them of how important their support can be in your life. In some desperate cases, you may find that those who should be the most supportive aren’t — or can’t be — for a variety of reasons. Understanding these reasons — and the people around you — can help you to overcome those situations and better recognize those who truly have your better interests at heart.

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Supportive family and friends are so important in our careers because we risk much when we enter the adult, work world. We risk being judged. We risk failure. We risk embarrassment and we even risk the discovery that we have chosen the wrong work or the wrong career. As you all know, career building can be stressful, so we need those people in our lives who can comfort us when the going gets rough; those who can mentor us and help us rebuild our confidence when our own belief in ourselves is running low. These aren’t people who lie to you just to make you feel better, but rather those who express their support, no matter what we decide and give us a firm foundation to stand upon while we reach for greater things.

Without these people, we can often feel adrift, lost and afraid. Without this stable foundation, we may not have the courage necessary to reach for bigger achievements in our lives. Without them, we can find our careers stunted and our work days unhappy, just because we lack the support for taking the most important steps. We can languish in our lives simply because it feels safer to stay in the cave than to venture out. There might be a bear waiting outside, or so the primitive parts of our mind might have us believe. To that I will say, yes, there are bears out there, but there is also so much more. It is worth braving the forest because you will find wonderful things there, too. Our family and friends can give us the courage to peek outside the cave and take in all the world has to offer.

As I mentioned earlier, though, sometimes our family might not be the best place to find support in our lives and our careers. Sadly, they might have so many of their own issues, worries and fears that they simply have no space for yours. They may be addicted, ill or the victim of their own, unsupportive family. They may simply be unable to provide you the support you need for lack of their own experience. In some cases, your family will not want you to succeed because your success would point up their own failures. Maybe they never had the courage to step outside the cave and when you do, it only, painfully, reminds them of their own failures.

Bemoaning your fate won’t help, though. Once you recognize these issues, your only recourse is to seek out and build the support you need in your life. This is when we reach out to our friends. In some cases, our friends can become more of our family than our own blood relatives. Our friends have less baggage, fewer issues and see us as an individual, rather than just a small part of a larger family and the collective issues they might have. Friends can take or leave us — and we them — so we need not appeal to them or appease them if we don’t want. We associate with friends — and they with us — because we enjoy each other’s company. We genuinely “like” being around them. This can often make it easier for them to be supportive of us when we need it. There is simply less “history” to work through than their is with our family.

Of course, if we expect others to be supportive of us, then we must be supportive of them. Again, this doesn’t mean we don’t tell the truth to our friends. Rather it often means we tell the truth when others will not. This can mean everything from telling them that, “yes, those pants do make you look fat”, to the fact that their addiction to something is endangering their life and everything in-between. Still, the most basic underpinning of the relationship is support. To be supportive of each other means that you both, honestly, want to see each other succeed — in life and career — as much as possible. This can be difficult sometimes, such as when someone is gaining more success than you are, but it is so, so important to everyone involved. We should be able to celebrate everyone’s success, even when we are struggling ourselves, since we have played some small part in their success.

The biggest enemy of supportive relationships is this — insecurity. Insecure people find it impossible to be supportive of others. They see the gains of others as a direct loss for themselves. Instead of mutual success, they only see a zero sum game where they lose when others win. Insecurity seems to be the deep-seated cause of much of the anti-social behavior we see in society today. We can experience insecurity in our families, in your relationships, in our friendships — anywhere where people interact. It is important you recognize insecurity when you see it and avoid it at all costs. I often say, “it is impossible to reason with unreasonable people” and insecure people are often the most unreasonable people you will meet. They see the world through one filter. They see any success as a direct attack on their life and career. Because they see the world this way, they will lash out, attack and sabotage those around them when possible. They become the exact opposite of the supportive environment that we all need to thrive. Avoid them at all costs.

I hope that your family is helpful and supportive in your life and career. Many are. I have seen mothers and fathers grit their teeth and smile when their children make decisions different from what they might make. They welcome them back to offer a friendly and supportive shoulder when needed. They help their children to succeed in every way possible.

If you are blessed with such a family, appreciate it, celebrate it and thank them at every opportunity. If your family is not as supportive as you wish or need, though, it is up to you to find another, more supportive environment. You might find this through your friends, your organizations or even your work, but find it you must. Everything will depend on finding a supportive environment that will help you to thrive. That said, if you are seeking out a supportive environment, you must seek to be the same for others. You can’t have one without the other.


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