Building a strong support system is not something I consider to have been a priority of mine, at least within the past 5 years. I think it’s a pretty common theme within Latin families that you are expected to carry your own weight and take care of your own “business”. Today families may be more supportive but, at least for my generation, the narrative was that you needed to rise from the dirt and become something. This same narrative, while seemingly inspirational, implies that you—and only you—must be the driving force that guides your success. As such, building a proper support system never came across my mind—not as I entered high school, and certainly not as I came into college. It’s not that I reject the idea of accepting other people’s help, its more so the idea that someone needs a support system to be successful or happy was not one of the values and beliefs that were given to me as I grew up.
Not too long ago someone asked me: Well, weren’t your parents your support system growing up? My mother works 12 hour nursing shifts five days a week and my father works two, sometimes 3, jobs to keep a roof over my families head. A solid support system is just not something my family prioritized. I truly disagree with the idea that you need to change who you are to fit into the expectations of other people. I disagree with the idea that I need to be more open with people, more vulnerable, more sociable, that I need to do this or that, that I need a support system. Even though I was a Latin kid growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Diego, I still went to an excellent school and am currently surrounded by some of the best professors and mentors in my field of interest. I interact with people who have made, and continue to make significant contributions to my field of interest. I am building my brand the way I feel best matches and exemplifies who I am. Being more open, more vulnerable, more human is just not who I am. It wasn’t how I was raised and it isn’t how I feel I need to operate to achieve my goals.
To risk slightly contradicting myself: while working in my lab I’ve noticed that I have become close with my coworkers and mentors and consider them some of my closest friends. Knowing that I can walk not 100 ft from my class and be in the presence of people I consider to be fun and interesting people who I can have an enjoyable exchange with has become one of the highlights of my day. The thirty or so minutes that I spend with them in the morning serves as a release from the chaos that is my academic schedule and allows me the time to just clear my head and feel absolved of my responsibilities for a brief period of time. In this brief period of time I can sit back and listen to people tell stories of their days and crack jokes. It’s the brief window of time where I feel safe from judgment or potential scrutiny. In that sense, I have come to develop a small support system. I wont endorse an effort to push someone against doing what they don’t feel aligns with who they are, but I will say that I have come to really enjoy the company of my select group. I don’t think I would have been worse off if I didn’t meet my group, but I certainly am glad I did.