This month, Team TfK member Steph Oldham tells us her story of using her own experiences to support others who are going through tough times. It’s particularly exciting to share this story on #RandomActsofKindnessDay
“What did you do before going to university?”
This question is a familiar one to me.
In 2020 I completed a university degree as a mature student. When at university and then with subsequent jobs, this question has been asked by fellow students and colleagues, and each time I say “I was poorly as a teenager until my late twenties”. Their reply to this is often “I’m sorry”. I used to say “that’s okay” but now I tend to go more along the lines of “it’s okay, it’s made me the person I am today”.
Using my experiences
My past is still part of me but what I realise is that I can use my experiences to provide empathy, advice, and reassurance for those fighting similar or even different battles. It doesn’t mean I know how to “fix” them or make things better, but it allows me to think about what helped me or would have helped me during tougher moments in my life.
Having met a lot of different people throughout my own journey allows me to understand and respect that people need support in different ways. There is no hard and fast rule, it’s about spending time to find out what would be helpful and not confining them to certain techniques/solutions.
I don’t have to tell people my story even, as I think it’s more subtle than that- it’s a gentle smile and eye contact, a nod that I understand.
Tips for supporting others
Reflecting on my own past and interactions with others, I think a few things can be useful when supporting others. As I said, there are no hard and fast rules, but these might be worth considering.
- Time and Space – Often people don’t want a solution, it’s to be heard and given the time to express their feelings.
- Reassurance – In society, we have often been told, we should not feel a particular way but actually what we all need to hear is that it’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling.
- An ally – Someone who is “on your side”. It doesn’t have to be someone that fights your battles but more of someone that allows you to be you, supports your decisions and will be there.
I have discovered that when I start opening up about little parts of me, my life, and my insecurities, people will often share theirs. By making myself more open it allows those conversations to start. It makes it normal, it reminds people that we are all human, we all have a past. We all have a life, days that are not good, days where we want to hide under the duvet but have forced ourselves out the door.
By being open, by starting conversations, by showing empathy, kindness, support, fragility, strength, and laughter we can show people that even though our experiences can be difficult, they make us who we are today.
And maybe, just maybe, we can support others, so they don’t have to feel alone.
Steph Oldham works in a higher education institution, with a passion for supporting students to allow them to thrive and fulfil their potential. Steph loves talking about all things relating to science, kindness, baking and alpacas!
If you’re inspired by this blog to look for other ways to include kind acts in your day, check out our brand new Top 50 ideas for kindness.