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Navigating Your Mental Health, Family Responsibility, And Your New Internship

We’ll start with the most important truth — you are not selfish for wanting to prioritize yourself as much as you do your family and their needs. Just because you weren’t raised to believe this doesn’t make it less of a truth, it just makes it a harder truth that you’ll have to work to believe.

It’s also not a bad thing that you want to take care of your family. The goal isn’t to play favorites with one over the other, it’s simply to find the balance that makes the most sense for you and the moment in life you’re in.

Over the last few years, both while building out my career as a mental health advocate and learning through my own first-generation Latinx experience, I learned that there is a sweet spot where I don’t feel sacrificed every time I choose my family and where I don’t feel guilty every time I choose myself. The awareness of this sweet spot comes slowly, but it’s there.

Here are some of the habits that have helped me carve out this sweet spot.

Schedule time every week for yourself, not just for your family

For me, it had to start here and it had to start out of need. I’d just finished care taking for my 85-year-old grandmother when I realized I didn’t have a life for myself or that I’d built on my own wants, so I started slowly by scheduling time for myself, the hobbies that made me happy, and the career I wanted to pour into. It started off with a few hours that eventually turned into more meaningful chunks of time. Those first few minutes allotted to yourself and only you are hard to claim, but it’s the baby step that will help you set boundaries in the long run.

Remind yourself you’re playing the long game

Your career is being built over a lifetime, so why assume that you’ll learn to balance your family and internship magically over the first summer? Cut yourself some slack and remind yourself that you’re playing the long game. You know there will be more value for you and your family if you keep your head down and pour into your foundation right now. You also know that you’re more likely to do better by yourself if you can grow your career, attend networking events, or work later hours during the foundation building years. Think long game instead of deciding you’re letting someone down.

Surround yourself with a community

Your family loves you, this is fact. Your family can sometimes also not understand you. Choosing a family of friends and mentors who do understand your career vision and the work it needs to take to get there will help you hold onto it on days when the Latinx guilt is the most prominent. They’re outside of it enough to remind you that you’re doing the right thing for you, your career, and them even when you can’t remind yourself.

Don’t focus on convincing, focus on living

Learning to let go and accepting that you can’t convince someone who isn’t willing to be convinced can help you refocus on living, but getting to the point where those are actionable takes a lot of work. Start with small ways you can let go of others’ inability to see your vision for how you see it — write it down, set a reminder on your phone, or ask a loved one to remind you when you start going down the rabbit hole. Then focus on the ways that you can actually help your family and meet the responsibilities you do have with them within the time frames you set for yourself. Do you need to help translate at a doctor’s appointment? Great, try to schedule it for your day off at your internship so you don’t have to balance all the things on a single day. If you’re far from home and your parents check in all the time, only respond to emergency texts during the day, but leave the rest unanswered during your work day.

Ultimately the biggest habit that will help you navigate through your career and family obligations is to baby step setting boundaries that make sense for you and your sanity. Write down what you’d love for your boundaries to be and the small steps you can take to start building them. This doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be able to set them or even that they’ll be instantly respected, but it does mean that you’re doing all you can to make your life easier in that moment.

By Vivian Nunez