Mother Teresa once called loneliness the most terrible poverty. When reflecting on my life so far, I must agree. The company of others in the support system that I have developed has been one of my greatest blessings. Over the years I have cultivated and nourished a strong support group of both colleagues and friends that I often draw to for strength. The belongingness and friendship provided by my support system has carried me through countless challenging times and continues to spur my work with victims of domestic violence today.
When I moved to Washington, D.C. alone as a young women, I quickly realized the necessity of developing a support system. When I arrived in D.C., I set my sights on interning on Capitol Hill, a place that seemed familiar due to my family’s involvement in politics. When interning on the Hill, I met many young professionals with interests and ambitions like mine. I could easily forge new friendships based on these. I turned to these new friendships when I was looking for roommates or hoping to escape the city in a weekend beach rental.
As my friends and I matured, so did the nature of my support system. Given my lack of extended family, friendship was key in raising a young child. When my daughter was born, I had developed an active career in human resources and my husband’s work frequently took him overseas. My friends lovingly helped to fill in caregiver gaps if my daughter or myself fell ill. Being a young mother also brought new friends into my support system. I found myself gravitating towards women in similar positions, those constantly looking for babysitters or who could commiserate if I felt down. It was during this period when I learned how vital those friendships were to my personal success — not just with the practical matters but also by providing the nourishment and human warmth that my mind and soul needed.
I turned to this ever-growing support system when I had the idea to start an employment agency catering to victims of domestic violence. Through volunteer work in shelters, I learned that battered women often return to their abusers because they lack financial resources to support themselves and dependents. I was determined to start finding these women employment. My first partners in finding abused women stable and long-term employment were 40 of my human resources colleagues. Leveraging this part of my support system proved invaluable to getting my organization, Second Chance Employment Services, started. This community continues to serve as the key to the organization’s success today.
As my career progressed, my friends in other social networks have continued to evolve. I enjoy the company of women with older children as well now and have a bevy of exercising buddies that I turn to for motivation and companionship. My partnerships with various associations has also brought new friends into my life.
One of the most important things I have learned from developing a strong, helpful support system is that a successful support system requires a mutual exchange. One cannot simply take and not give back. You must provide help to your friends if you also expect them to help you. Being able to give back to those who have given to you is one of the greatest gifts. This helps others grow and in turn helps us grow. My friends come from a variety of backgrounds, so we help each other in various ways. While I might turn to a friend for some styling advice, I can utilize my expertise in human resources to coach them about a potential career change. Another one of my friends is an active fundraiser like me, and we accompany each other to various fundraising events.
My advice to those seeking to establish their own support systems is simple. First, start off by finding people who share your interests. Studies have shown that sharing interests helps facilitate meaningful friendships. If you enjoy looking at visual art, seek an art appreciation group or join a local art class. Volunteer with a non-profit organization in which you’ve always been interested. Finding people with similar hobbies and passions will truly make you feel like you belong.
These social interactions can have positive repercussions on all parts of our lives. Studies have found that your social relationships can positively affect both your mental and physical health. My friendships have been crucial in my life; I believe that I would not have accomplished as much without the loving support and encouragement I received. My support system has brought light into my life and shows me the importance of love every day.
Originally published at medium.com