Squad-Care: Self-Care, But Not Alone
By Ana Clara Blesso and Lisa Famularo, Center for Career Development, University of Connecticut
We believe that #SquadCare is where it’s at.
In the field of higher education especially, there exists a great emphasis on self-care, or activities that deliberately and purposefully support mental, physical, spiritual, professional, or other aspects of wellness in ourselves. There is much to be said for taking time to focus on our wellness, through massages, manicures, vacation, reading for pleasure, enjoying a delicious meal, etc. As we struggle with burnout and taxing situations, however, it can be easy to see how self-care alone might not suffice. Don’t get us wrong – we love a good meal and a pedicure; but to rely solely on ourselves is limiting.
Think of a time when you experienced stress, a difficult life moment, or a professional challenge – you might find that you looked to others for support, advice, and encouragement. In enters squad-care, or collective care: the concept that care is not solely an individual initiative. Instead, it utilizes a network of colleagues, family, friends, and/or allies, to support, encourage, and lift us up during both trying and joyful times.
The benefits and advantages of squad-care can actually be traced back to the world of healthcare. If you think about it, we rely on a variety of different doctors to keep ourselves healthy because their unique areas of expertise go beyond our own; the same idea applies to relying on different members of a squad for different types of support.
Despite its roots in healthcare, we were introduced to the idea of squad-care by Melissa Harris Perry, a writer, professor, and political commentator, who shared a story of how squad-care helped her through a low point in her life (trigger warnings: sexual violence, mental health challenges). Harris Perry argues that it is impossible for us to rely entirely on self-care to support our own well-being; instead, there is no shame in leaning on the mutual and symbiotic relationships we are part of for support when we need it (Harris-Perry, 2017). Other research shows that squad-care can create a community of support that reminds individuals they are not alone in facing challenges (Elizarde-Miller, 2018) and help prevent burnout in the short and long-term (Ilyas & Cordero Velázquez, 2017)
Lisa: As a graduate student, I certainly saw the benefits of leaning on my squad. I processed through challenging grad school moments with a cohort-mate, disconnected from class altogether with a friend who lives across the country during monthly FaceTime chats and a visit during Spring Break, and took advantage of a number of professional opportunities thanks to a wonderful sponsor in my assistantship office (thanks, Ana!). As a new professional, leaning on my squad has also been essential in navigating the many transitions that have come with starting a full-time job, both personally and professionally.
Ana: As a more seasoned professional, I find that utilizing a group of friends and colleagues for professional support is also essential. As I work to navigate higher education systems with colleagues at other universities, avoid burnout by engaging with friends outside of the field, and develop a strategic expertise by gathering feedback from those with unique lived experiences, I often find I need others’ voices to help me develop as a strong professional. I can rely on friends and colleagues to help me celebrate victories and to share more vulnerable moments of stress and challenge.
If you are interested in building a squad, you must be thinking: how do I get started? Well, keep in mind that there is no definition of a perfect squad; your ideal squad depends on your individual circumstances and the type(s) of support you may need. However, as you start to build your squad, you may want to consider including some of these individuals:
- A mentor: finding a trusted individual who can share in your vulnerable moments and add insight based on their professional experiences can be essential in feeling heard and developing insight
- A sponsor: being thought of for projects, having your name come up during crucial conversations, and being supported for promotions can be imperative – and a sponsor is an individual who will consistently think of you when opportunities arise
- A friend: connecting with someone who knows you well outside your world of work can be a great way to disconnect, avoid burnout, and develop a strong identity
- A mentee: mentoring someone often requires you to reflect on your past experiences, which can be helpful in learning from your past and guiding your future goals
- A colleague: a coworker who makes you feel seen and heard can be crucial for workplace engagement and enjoyment
- An ally: when adversity strikes, it can be essential to have an individual in your squad who will stand up for you and advocate for causes that are important to you
Finally, you don’t work in higher education without hearing the word “assessment.” But, hear us out – it’s really helpful to evaluate your squad and assess how well it’s supporting you over time.
Consider asking yourself these questions periodically and making adjustments if needed:
- Have goals for each relationship been met?
- Are there any relationships that need to change or be adjusted?
- Are there any areas I wish were represented differently or more?
- Do I feel heard and supported by the members of my squad?
- When was the last time I evaluated my squad and its purpose?
- What is my biggest need right now? Is it being met?
There’s a famous (and wonderful) African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We believe this sums up squad-care quite nicely; it might take a little time and effort, but the payoff and sense of community can be huge. Who is part of your squad, and how do they support you? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter with #SquadCare!
Elizarde-Miller, T. (2018). When self-care becomes collective care. Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. Retrieved from: https://www.ocadsv.org/blog/when-self-care-becomes-collective-care
Harris-Perry, M. (2017). How #squadcare saved my life. Elle. Retrieved from: https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/news/a46797/squad-care-melissa-harris-perry/
Ilyas, M. & Cordero Velásquez, T. (2017). Collective care in human rights funding: A political stand. OpenGlobalRights. Retrieved from: https://www.openglobalrights.org/collective-care-in-human-rights-funding-poli/
Lisa Famularo is a Career Consultant in UConn’s Center for Career Development with a focus on the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS). In this role, Lisa coaches CLAS students and alumni in major and career exploration, professional development, and employment-obtaining strategies. Lisa also works with CLAS faculty, staff, alumni, and employers to develop collaborative programming and identify networking and employment opportunities for CLAS students. Lisa holds a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education Student Affairs from UConn and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Ithaca College. Lisa can be found on Twitter at @lisamfamularo.
Ana Clara Blesso serves as Assistant Director for Experiential Learning at UConn’s Center for Career Development. In this role, Ana Clara serves as the departmental lead on internship and co-op-related programming, initiatives, and information. Ana Clara teaches the Center’s two internship courses, plans University-wide events related to experiential learning, and partners with fellow UConn offices and teams to develop robust on-campus internships. Prior to her time at UConn, Ana Clara worked as Assistant Director of Fairfield University’s Career Planning Center. She is a National Certified Counselor, an AAUW Salary Negotiation Facilitator, and has a Master of Arts in Counseling from Wake Forest University, where she also serves as an online practitioner instructor for career counseling courses. She can be found on Twitter at @anaclarablesso.