There is something about being the first. You have a vision, you have a dream, you have this feeling that you can make a difference. So, you follow that urge. Maybe it’s a hunch, maybe it’s a calling, maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s your purpose. Whatever it is, you put your sights on it and your entire life you are following that dream or feeling. You follow the urge wherever it takes you.
Something happens along the way when you are the first; the path isn’t clear. You don’t have role models, you don’t have mentors, and sometimes, the path is so new that it’s full of obstacles.
For many of us from underrepresented, underestimated, or underserved communities, we are the first in our families to be born in our country or the first to go to college or the first to be promoted. You don’t know what to do. Which path to take. Do you turn left or do you turn right or stay straight ahead? I know. I have had those feelings. I’ve been there. I’m still there.
Before they passed away, I was lucky to have my mother and grandmother as role models for my first 30 years of life. They provided a strong foundation that allowed me to securely form roots that have taken me far in life. Throughout my educational journey, I was lucky to be able to turn to my aunt and father for advice and guidance, but there came a certain point where they both had not experienced exactly what I wanted to do. Their advice went from more specific to more general life advice that nurtured and cultivated the seeds and roots that my mother and grandmother provided me.
It was not until later that I realized that my father was a sponsor my entire life. He often had me participate in activities and discussions he was a part of and saw my talents for planning and organizing, making sure that I had a seat at the table. At the time I did not know what a sponsor was, but I now recognize that I was being given opportunity and being introduced to the right people. A sponsor is willing to speak highly of you and your skills in rooms you may not be in or even in rooms that you are in. A sponsor will provide you with tasks that push you past your comfort zone so that you can grow as a leader because they recognize your talent. A sponsor might not be someone who you speak to on a regular basis, but it is important to keep them posted on the work you are doing and also extend them a helping hand when you can. As you build a network and ecosystem in your personal and professional journey, it’s important to nurture it as you would a plant.
But what happens when there is something you want to do, and no one has done it or not many people have done it? One of my main strategies is to create the spaces I want to see and be in. That is why I joined a creative writing course in 2010 (we still meet today), that is why I created a mastermind/peer to peer coaching group in 2011 (we still meet today), and that is why I recently joined the Cru. There are times in my career and life when I need a support system of people to bounce ideas off of and people to build trust and strong ties with.
Now there are times when even beyond networking groups, I still don’t have the exact role model I am looking for. So, I turn to my favorite resource: information. When I find a topic that I want to learn more about, I go find a book. After I read the book, I find podcast episodes and other interviews the person has done on the topic; this is a way for me to gain more insight into the thought process behind the writer. I consider this a deep dive into a person who I admire or a topic that I want to learn more about. This is especially useful when I cannot afford to pay for a person’s services, or I can’t attend speaking events that they hold. I use Spotify as a main tool for deep dives. I just type in the person’s name in the search box and all the podcast episodes they have been on comes up.
So when you are one of the firsts to do something in your family or on a new path and don’t have many examples, it’s important to find spaces where you can build your own version of a syllabus/curriculum. A strategy that will help you with your goals and life direction. We are all connected and on this journey together; none of us have it figured out, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try to get as much clarity as possible. Even if that means building a network and an ecosystem of pods, clusters, and webs that can help you see more clearly. In some areas in life we can see the target, but have many barriers in place. And in other areas in life we confidently walk on a path, but don’t know exactly the target. And ideally there are times when you know both, the target and the path.
For those of us who vacillate between both, I decided to create Collectively Upward a space for social impact focused people and partnerships to interact with one another and build a group of role models, collaborators, sponsors, and more.
It’s important that we grow and continue to evolve individually, but equally important to realize that we can’t do it alone.
What do you do when you don’t have a role model, mentor, or sponsor?
I was interviewed on Built on Air, a podcast about how people use Airtable in their personal, professional, or business lives. Check it out and let me know what you think.