Last month, I first wrote about squad-care, and how helpful finding a NACE mentor has been to my professional and personal development. Squad-care is an ongoing process, not a one-time experience, so over the next few posts, I’ll be discussing additional tips and components of a truly successful professional squad.
During stressful times at work, it’s easy to say, “I want to be where the people aren’t.” I have actually heard friends and colleagues joke about this—that they long for time by themselves. While alone time can be key to reflection and well-being, I cannot help but challenge this statement.
In our tiredness and during our busiest moments, we may think that alone time is the answer to our struggles. However, I have found that it is particularly difficult to do life alone. I don’t believe that humans were made to exist entirely independently. Collective care is key to our success—and work is no exception. If you’re hoping to develop a stronger network in our field, it can admittedly take a little bit of effort—but I promise it’s worth it.
As simple as it sounds, go where the people are! Though I realize that budgets are tight and time is precious, try to attend at least one conference each year. Some may have the ability to attend a national conference, and even present—while for others, this may require some creative thinking. Connect with leaders of regional organizations. Do they offer one-day sessions? Is there a conference this year that is within driving distance from your home or office? If traveling is not an option at all, consider participating in webinars and online trainings and following up with presenters afterwards. Or, find articles that help and inspire you, and follow up with those authors as well.
Here’s the thing: when you attend conferences or trainings, be purposeful with your time and engagement. The picture you’ll find above is of myself and three colleagues at a conference last year. One of the individuals in the image, the wonderful Megan Hollis of Florida State University, is someone I had never met before this conference! We both attended a session, and the questions she asked resonated with me, so I struck up a conversation. We now engage with one another regularly and I’m proud to call her a member of my professional squad. It is so easy to attend conferences, see it as a break from our daily routines, and keep to ourselves or just engage with those we know well. Try to use the time to connect with individuals you might not have met otherwise. So many career centers include only a handful of professional staff; this small number means that we cannot just look to our daily colleagues for support.
Conferences are just the start, however. Making friends and connecting annually is great, but that’s not where collective care thrives. Each month, I try to schedule phone calls with various members of my squad. In these calls, we discuss challenges we are currently facing, celebrate one another’s successes, and have larger conversations about our field as a whole. Relationships take effort, and sometimes, we long to be alone. This is a purposeful effort to keep these friendships alive and well. Alone time is tremendous, but so is knowing that a colleague is rooting for you from afar.
It’s also important to be thoughtful with who we are vulnerable around and include in our squad. In the next squad-care blog, I’ll discuss recommendations for who to include in your squad—and how to build those lasting professional connections.