3 Ways a Support Network Helps You Achieve Your Goals

In my family, it’s no secret that I love nicknames.  Silly, irreverent, they often take some passing comment and turn it into a running inside joke, codifying bits of life history that can be drawn upon with a single word.  Occasionally the nickname becomes embedded in daily life, so layered in details and memories that nobody can recall the exact muse for inanity.  So it is that I cannot remember when, exactly, I started referring to myself as ‘Mighty Mouse’ with my parents.  The self-imposed nickname makes no reference to the cartoon from the fifties; the idea sprung up as a metaphor for the angst I was experiencing over my first job.  The idea of a tiny mouse striving for superheroic acts that, ultimately, are inconsequential to anybody outside the miniscule realm in this hypothetical world of mice, struck me as both ironic and a little reminder to stop whining and develop a backbone.  To act more like my namesake while mocking how seriously I took myself, in other words.

There’s very little about this nickname that separates it from scores of others that have faded with time, except that on a whim, I translated it into Chinese.  We have no word for “superhero,” so I used the word xia instead.  Though it literally translates as “warrior,” the meaning is more Robin Hood than knight of the Middle Ages.  The subculture of xia has its own code of conduct has woven itself into pieces of the landscape of Chinese literature for hundreds of years now, right up through the martial arts films of today like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  To this I married the phrase “super,” in keeping with translations for “superman” and “supermarket.”  Chaoji shuxia.  Super Mouse Warrior.  It tickled me dad pink that I finally progressed beyond literal translation, so the name stuck.

Chaoji shuxia is a composite phrase comprised of two individual phrases, each loaded with connotations and references.  Pairing the tiny mouse (shu) with the noble and righteous xia, for example, is as irreverent as the spirit in which I created the nickname.  An added layer of complexity is the fact that the Chinese language is perfectly situated for puns, as multiple characters are associated with one sound, and characters can take on multiple parts of speech, depending on the context.  For example, the word for “father” and “assistant” are the exact same sound, and thus one fine spring day the joke evolved further to birth a sidekick, a deputy mouse assistant who also happened to have brought me into this world.

More a right hand man than a disciple, a cross between Robin and Batboy, dad’s nickname is at once a mocking jab at traditional Confucian values and a reflection of the immense moral support he’s given me through the years.  My mother’s only comment – “Well, at least he’s not Assistant Stapler,” punctuated by an eye roll – underscores the fact that my parents support me in vastly different ways, dad with day-to-day encouragement and as a sounding board for ideas, mom in occasional heartfelt conversations about what it means to operate in this nation as a minority woman, dealing with issues of identity, career, love, power.

Developing courage and initiative is critical for pursuing our dreams.  Just like the visual sources of inspiration that keep us moving forward, support from friends and family is critical to keeping us on track and motivated.  Friends and family offer several flavors of support.  There is moral support, like when I email my fu or dad/assistant, long rambling ruminations laced with self-doubt and uncertainty.  He rises heroically to the challenge, blaring metaphorical trumpets of encouragement and humor that pick me right back up to superhero status once more, or at least elicit a wild outburst of laughter that cause my classmates in the computing lab to all edge a little further away in their seats.

There is accountability, like the year I decided to walk 500 miles and posted this new years resolution to my blog.  Through the year friends asked after my progress, just often enough that I always heard their voices in my head if I felt like slacking off for a day or two.  Let your friends and family know what you’re up to, keep them updated on your status, have them check in with your progress on a weekly basis.  Internally imposed deadlines have more teeth when we answer to both internal and external sources, even if it’s a friendly “So did you get to the gym today?” asked in passing by a coworker.

Or the coworker might meet you at the gym.  The third form of support comes from going through the same challenge together, whether that is a walking buddy or a small business support group that meets monthly.  These people understand the trials and tribulations more intimately than anyone else.  In addition to moral support they offer ideas, resources, experience, and a fresh perspective.  As I mentioned earlier, my daily ping with Kris is not just about accountability, it’s about having someone to share the small successes with, to reflect together and push one another forward.  Thanks to her I wake up at 6:30 now and am aiming for 6AM by the middle of March.

After writing this, I can see that I haven’t enlisted enough support for this writing project.  Although Kris and I still have a daily ping challenge going, I haven’t tapped into the other two forms of support yet.  I think I should change my daily ping to include a minimum word number, which will increase accountability to a certain production level.  I might also want to report a weekly scorecard to a different friend, just to increase the accountability.  Finally, I definitely need a source of moral support.  Part of the courage I’m seeking this year is the ability to show an imperfect face to my friends – imperfectly thought through vision for this space, imperfect words, imperfectly honed ideas expressed by imperfect drafts.  Without their support and feedback I can only get so far.  I need their help to move beyond my current level of imperfection.

Although my parents are a huge support for me in most of my undertakings, I’ve decided not to involve them in this one.  I will miss my fu in this project, but I also know our relationship must evolve to a new level.  To have moved to another country at the start of adolescence and learned to succeed in a vastly different set of cultural norms and expectations, supporting and encouraging your daughter to navigate those ambiguous waters and to do so in a funny, encouraging way in your adopted tongue; to break ground in the first wave of women and minority students to enter the legal profession and to do so as both a woman and a minority: I can only hope one day to have as much patience and strength as my parents do, to help my own children take flight and to have the privilege of looking back on these words etched into memory, and retrace with humility the footpaths tread along the way.

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