A story from my daughter, Gabriela:

It took me a long time to find my community. I have always felt like an outsider from elementary school to high school and even throughout my first year of college. I went from group to group and never felt like I never truly had a place anywhere. I transferred schools a lot because I always had an underlying feeling that something was holding me back from being truly happy with the people I was surrounded by and the environment I was in. The first year of college was difficult for me because I felt like I went through everything alone. There wasn’t a good community that gave me the feeling of belonging at that school. I felt isolated and alone because no one there cared enough to provide me with a good experience that made me want to stay.

While attending this university, I was diagnosed by a nurse practitioner with General Anxiety Disorder. As a result, there would be a therapist I would see at least once a month to talk about problems that would arise on campus, events that occurred outside of the college, as well as helping me work through and cope with everything.

So I decided that after being a thousand miles away from my home with no warmth or valid reasons to stay, I would transfer back to Colorado to attend Colorado State University. Here I found a great community with a strong foundation of loving people who exhibited caring leadership and welcomed me with open arms. They met me where I was at and nurtured my desire for closeness and tight-knit connections. On campus, I found a community of transfer students that went through some similar events like me, a few of them related to my anxiety because they had been suffering from it just as badly as I was. Together, we would each meet one on one for lunch or some type of weekend hangout to catch each other up on our lives and check in on each other with how we are doing mentally. If any of us were having a bad day or week, we would be there to support each other mutually. Whether it was to provide a shoulder to cry on, a hug session, or just to be their listener for that day. Even the advisors and professors are more flexible and understanding. You can absolutely see that they care about the students’ whole selves, and their entire well-being inside & outside of the classroom. They put you first and make you feel wanted.

The reason why I want to share my experiences with my first school versus my current university is because they hold a great comparison to different types of workplace cultures. For example, suppose you worked at a company with a boss who is consistently rude and never thinks twice when it comes to what you need to feel like you belong. In that case, you will eventually resent that leader, which creates a poor work environment for you. You won’t be able to nurture relationships with other employees, which can result in feeling left out of lunch invites or maybe a happy hour after work. It becomes a completely dead work environment with cold-hearted people who are only focused on themselves and their future. I highly doubt you would want to stay in a hostile work environment where you don’t feel valued.

On the flip side, another instance of a type of workplace would be a leader that makes an effort to establish individual relationships with his workers and takes time out of his day to organize events to bring people together with a positive mindset. They’re determined to create a welcoming environment for employees and to establish connections, networks, and bonds between people working in their organization. The employees look out for one another in this work setting. They invite each other to lunch or after-hour dinners and maybe even plan events on their weekends. They all feel wanted, welcomed, and maintain a sense of belonging that makes it worthwhile for them to work at an organization that openly shows caring leadership.

Moreover, what I would like you to take away from this whole story is that mental health should not stop you from finding a sense of belonging within the workplace, nor should it stop you from finding a strong and loving community that is there for you all the time, in whatever ways you need. But just remember that it may take a few tries until you find the place where you belong. Know your worth and that you deserve to be heard, wanted, and missed when you are gone.