If you enjoy ice dancing, this video’s worth a watch. That routine took place during this year’s Winter Olympics. So, who are they, and why am I posting about them?
Their names are Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Davis is dyslexic, and had issues reading up through high school. Figure skating is the passion that kept her going. As for White, he’s neurotypical, but he’s endured having an ankle broken twice during the course of his career, more than likely caught flack from societal pressure because of his chosen profession and kept at it.
I have no doubt that they were there for each other through each other’s struggles. The fact that they still work together as well as they do belies the strength of their friendship and partnership. They were paired when they were children, after all, and stuck together.
Folks like Meryl Davis, Jack Horner, Temple Grandin and Whoopi Goldberg shouldered responsibility for their own futures, but they also had support systems in addition to their determination and unique ways of solving problems.
This got me thinking: What makes a good support system? How can you help a struggling loved one achieve their goals?
Of course, there’s no cut and dry answer. Each person is different, after all, and we all need different things at different times.
All that I can offer is what helps me when I hit snags.
Non-Judgemental Help When Requested
In my particular situation, this comes down to constructive criticism and ideas from a select group of people. Because I’m shifting my focus more towards fiction in addition to writing for the web, sometimes I need folks to read over what I already have written before continuing on with the process.
These are people I know won’t try to “fix” concepts within my writing and won’t deliver criticism in hurtful ways. Because of painful experiences in the past, there aren’t many people I trust with this step. Some call that being too sensitive, but I call it being human.
As far as I can tell, this is a vital part of the process for all sorts of paths. Anything that involves judgement anywhere along the line just a little more bearable when you have the prodding that comes with the ‘critisism’ and encouragement that comes with ‘constructive’.
The most important parts of this, especially if they already face constant criticism already, is to give it only when they ask for it. Few things are more infuriating than unsolicited advice.
In fact, having ‘advice’ or ‘corrections’ thrown at you at every turn starts to feel a lot like you’re being manipulated by the people doing it. By doing this, you’re causing far more harm than good.
Offers of Escape
I’m a huge proponent of taking breaks.
When it comes to working out, our bodies need breaks in order to rebuild muscle tissue, refuel and rest. Our minds are no different when it comes to mental pursuits, especially if we already struggle with the task.
While working out without breaks causes physical injury, doing the same on a mental level leads to burn out and emotional breakdown.
This is where our support systems come in. Sometimes, we can’t necessarily tell what’s wrong, while a perceptive loved one can. When they see us struggling, they help us by offering to go on a walk, watch a movie or another way of diverting our attention long enough for us to recharge.
Of course, too much diversion can be a bad thing, but I’ve found that taking a day once in a while to wander through antique shops, the woods or doing something else with people I care about gives me a huge boost when I’m in a slump.
I know this is true for folks on other paths, too. Generally, we need a broad range of experiences to flourish in life. Friends and family can provide this.
It’s worth noting that both long and short distance relationships count. Chatting with friends online can be wonderful. One of my favorite things about the local sci-fi/fantasy conventions is the opportunity to connect with people I rarely see in person.
Expression of Interest
It can be discouraging when no one around you pays attention to what you’re working on. It’s a little surprising how helpful it is to have a note or link to an article sent your way.
As I’d mentioned before, we’re all our own people, and we’re all interested in different things, but supporting someone in this way is a wonderful way to keep them going. A side benefit is in learning about something you may not have known about otherwise.
However, it’s less of an expression of interest in the topic than an expression of interest in the individual.
I’ve had some absolutely wonderful experiences with swapping art for writing before. One of the best experiences was when I teamed up with a few artist friends to come up with related images of and stories about our respective fictional characters.
I guess that would be the writer/artist version of a band jamming together.
Anyway, that’s a pretty specialized example, but having like minded people creating things with you is both extremely encouraging and educational.
Neither party necessarily needs to be involved in creative pursuits, either. Things like going out with a wildlife or plant guide and using it to identify what you see on the trail works well. Going to sporting events together or taking a class together are also great ideas.
In this case, the shared experience is more important than the eventual outcome.
Something that seems to get missed when it comes to talking about support systems is that it’s a two way street. The most important thing to realize is that although a person may be struggling at the moment, they also has valuable gifts to give.
If they offer to help, and it would make your life a little easier, try not to look at it as putting more weight on their shoulders. If they’re far enough on their journey of self discovery, they’ll already know what their personal stress limits are, and they’re offering to support you because they can handle it.
If it does end up being too much for them, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Sometimes, we learn the most valuable lessons by pushing ourselves beyond our boundaries.
Long story short, support systems are more about being good, caring friends than anything else. These are just some specific ideas that have helped me hugely in my life.
We all have our paths to tread, but there’s no reason why they can’t converge once in a while.