I recently got some good work news. (Hooray!) When I heard, one of the first things I did was text a group of friends who are also academics. They have become an essential source of support for me. I wanted to tell them the good news, yes, but I also wanted to thank them. I had almost given up on this thing over the summer—I wasn’t sure it was worth the time I was investing in it, and thought it didn’t stand much of a chance. They told me it was worth it and gave me the encouragement to go forward with it. So, without them, this good thing may well not have happened.
And that’s just one example of a time when I benefitted from my invisible support network. Both in Atlanta and here in Michigan, I’ve benefitted immensely from this behind-the-scenes support. These networks help with specific situations: Is it worth applying for this thing? What do I do about this tricky work situation? I think this behavior by person X seems not okay—am I being overly sensitive? What do you think of the wording on this really important email—is it too strong? Did I screw up when I did Y? I can’t decide between A & B—can you help me think them through? There’s also the general venting and commiserating and celebrating and checking in on each other. These support networks aren’t visible to outsiders, but they feel essential to my ability to do what I do.
It’s possible that the title of this post is an overstatement—maybe I could make it without my behind-the-scenes support networks?—but I’m really, really glad I don’t have to. I don’t want people who will agree with everything I say, but I do want people who I know will be supportive, even if they’re challenging me.
As I thought about this, I remembered seeing this tweet:
I completely agree – finding your people is so key. And, for me, one of those things is finding people who I know will be supportive, but who will also challenge me.
I know I’m not alone in feeling extremely grateful for my invisible support network. Here’s one example:
I found that one particularly amusing because the text support network I mentioned in the first paragraph started based on trying to organize a get together for coffee (for the adults) and playtime (for the kids).
Some of my invisible support networks have happened by chance—in addition to the text group, there are two people that I now run with regularly where it started in part because we bumped into each other while out running separately and it seemed like we should try to coordinate it. Those runs are now a highlight of my week! But even that behind-the-scenes support isn’t been entirely by chance, in that all of those people are ones who I suspected would be “my people”, to go back to the framing in the quote from Needhi Bhalla above. Others have been more intentional—for example, the support network that has formed from my writing group. And others have been chance on my part but intentional on someone else’s—I deeply value the behind-the-scenes interactions that Brian, Jeremy, and I have.
The Needhi Bhalla quote in Gina Baucom’s tweet above comes from this episode of The Taproot podcast. When she talks about finding your people, she notes that your people may live in the same place as you, but they may not. In particular, she notes the value of twitter as a place where people—especially those from marginalized groups—can find their people and engage in conversations that aren’t happening in their department or institute or wherever.
Do you have an invisible support network? How did it get started? Was it chance or cultivated or some combination of both? Do you have advice for how others can find people who will share their struggles, celebrate their victories, and provide support?