Advocate for yourself, no one else will

by Alyssa Phillips , Contributor

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned recently is you have to advocate for yourself because you are the only person who can truly do so.

I know this to be true in part from the strong support system of people who have advocated on my behalf and demonstrated this through simple acts such as texting me “Have a great day” when I am about to experience something stressful. I’m lucky these people hold me accountable when I am not treating myself well because I certainly lack the skill to recognize when I need to treat myself better.

At both my graduate and undergraduate institutions, I studied creative writing (and still do) while spending the majority of my working career teaching and mentoring. 

While the connection between creative writing and rhetorical writing may not immediately be clear, I fell into mentoring and teaching naturally. I received that initial email requesting applications from creative writing majors and I applied because the mentoring position five years ago came to me. 

Now, completing my second semester of teaching, I realize there was truly no reason for me to teach other than it was the option most readily available.

When asking myself why I signed a contract to continue doing work that causes me stress and anxiety, I noticed I felt an unwarranted sense of loyalty to my employer and, what’s worse, I felt compelled to continue because I’m good at what I do. 

Before I listened to loved ones asking me why I prioritized a job over my mental and physical well-being, I didn’t think it was possible to be good at a job that caused you stress and anxiety — why would I get anxiety from a job I was more than capable of performing?

By staying in a job I knew didn’t serve me, I took a passive role in my own life and failed to prioritize myself; it simply never occurred to me that I needed to advocate for myself. 

Mentoring, tutoring and teaching were the types of jobs made available to me and that’s why I took them. As an undergrad, it’s not hard to imagine emails soliciting my exact kind of expertise for any pay was attractive, which is another reason why it didn’t take long for me to believe I owed something to these positions and institutions offering me ways of paying rent. 

When I started graduate school, the natural next step was to teach, given the years I had spent mentoring and tutoring — all of which were enjoyable even if they weren’t my passion. 

During my first semester, I fell into the same routine of endorsing a position that didn’t endorse me. 

Now, halfway through a semester of working a job that causes me disproportionate stress in comparison with pay, I realize I made an implicit assumption in working this job: other people have a stake in my well-being, so I don’t need to take on that job, too. 

To be clear, this is true to an extent. If I talked through my constant anxieties and imposter syndrome with my superiors, I likely wouldn’t be counting down the days until I’m released from my contract with so much anticipation. 

The bottom line is: I have developed a sense of loyalty to my employers simply because they pay me, which is never a reason to seek comfort where none exists. Yes, I can continue working my current job, challenging myself and, in my opinion, succeeding at performing my contracted duties. However, I’ve had to learn that being good at a job is not enough of a reason to stay nor is a strange sense of loyalty inherently built on the exchange of money for goods and services. 

While it has been difficult to constantly remind myself I have nothing to prove nor do I owe loyalty to my employers, I certainly wish I had learned this before the semester started.

I had to learn to advocate for myself because no one else can prioritize me the way I can, no matter how much they care.

Alyssa Phillips is a second year graduate student studying creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @alyjoye.

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