Dear First Gen,
My whole life, I have not stopped to heal.
What does it mean to heal anyway?
Every choice or decision I have made in my schooling and my career was for a reason beyond my own self-interests. I excelled in school because it was necessary for my family. I put in long hours at work because I had a reputation to uphold. I sacrificed taking several days off work despite many days feeling under the weather or overly committed.
I have been going and going, like a nonstop flight, and I have not taken time to check in with myself. Maybe I need to be making time to heal.
You may be wondering what I need to #heal from.
Well, I never took time to heal from the instruments that I was prohibited from playing. Or the birthday celebrations I didn't have. The vacations I didn't take and the summer camps I didn't attend. The “normal” childhood I missed out on.
Or how about healing from being seen as someone accepted into school or offered a job under #affirmativeaction policies rather than for my own merit? Or the countless hours I spend rewriting emails in fear that I'll come off as “another incoherent person with immigrant parents”?
It can be exhausting having to defend myself if I use an accent when saying certain words, speak to my parents in their native language, or have my credentials questioned even after putting in the work to be seen as a qualified applicant.
Individually, these instances may not leave a lasting mark. But built up over decades, being continually questioned and having to prove myself, it's possible that I need some time to heal.
It is rare for me to share this publicly. I was raised to believe that there were certain things I would not be afforded, so I had to be strategic and intentional when pursuing each and every goal in my life. It was always reinforced that nothing was going to come easy for me. I was not born into any privilege, and I would always have to work for what I wanted.
When I wrote my first blog post, I started to heal from the various #unapologetically first-gen moments I have lived. How? Other people reached out to me to let me know they went through the same things, or would share their own story with me.
After I posted “Hard Knock Life of a First Gen,” my cousin who is in high school told me that his mom took him out of trumpet class to focus on science. We spoke to my aunt about how it made him feel and she said that he can take trumpet lessons when he is older.
It is possible that it's too late for this cycle to be broken, but my cousin did not harbor any ill feelings about his mother's decision. Just like me, he understood the bigger picture that all first gens learned at a very early age.
Our families came to the United States to achieve The American Dream. But often, this constant reminder can be hard to swallow and doesn't give us the time we may need to heal those wounds of what might have been in our childhoods.
As an adult, I have been reminded of the importance of healing. Now, I make it a priority to find space and time to heal because it has helped me to recognize why I may act a certain way when something is withheld from me or when I feel “robbed” of certain moments.
For me, healing was and is necessary. I just wish I'd learned that sooner in life.
Tell me: Have you made time to heal? If so, how do you heal?
Dear First Gen,
When I think about my journey, I am reminded that I did not arrive where I am today on my own. There were a few amazing advisors and mentors that guided me along the way. They offered me good advice that I share with my interns and others I believe would benefit from the information.
But it wasn't always easy to find a good mentor, either. There were instances when I sought someone to be my advisor/mentor and it yielded great results. Other times, I had to kindly distance myself from people because I no longer saw a benefit to our relationship.
When I was a student, my assigned career advisors served me well. I remain connected with a couple of them to this day. But there were several times I decided to venture out and speak to the head advisor.
In college, I attempted to meet with different advisors because they rotated in and out of the positions. I needed to meet with several of them so they would know my needs and be able to assist me when someone else was not available. In this case, I couldn't have a “regular” advisor.
I made it a point to meet with the Dean of the Career Development Office in undergrad because this individual was consistent and possessed invaluable information, like access to off-campus positions I needed for my field placement courses.
In law school, I scheduled advising appointments with the Dean of the Career Development Office as well. He had expertise about positions I was seeking and told me about the school’s reciprocity policy, which I used even after I graduated. My meetings with him were always helpful and I usually went to him even after I had met with the other advisors if they were unable to help me in the way I was looking for.
Whether I wanted to know how to work in a judge’s chamber or for a non-profit, locally or in my home state, my initial meeting with an advisor often clued me in how our working relationship would work. I became a good judge of not only who would be accepting of my numerous questions, but also who would give me a thorough explanation. I was looking for specific and actionable advice on the process or strategies to improve my chances of getting an internship or securing a job.
The common thread among each advisor I encountered was their willingness to help upon seeing that I was eager to be guided. They understood that I would not stop seeking their help until I obtained the results I was looking for. I sometimes learned after the fact that they talked with one another to find a different approach for helping me reach my goal.
Over the past 10 years, I have identified a key characteristic I look for in an effective mentor: their openness to serve as a mentor.
This month's featured First Gen has embraced her first year of living abroad. Read about her journey in becoming the first in her family to live in another country and miles away from her family.
1. What is your name?
My name is Bridget Lotoft.
2. What is your current occupation?
I am currently working as a Paralegal Specialist in Japan. My previous work experience involves advocacy work within law enforcement and volunteer work with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
3. What is your education background?
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology with a concentration in Women Studies and Sociology minor. Also, I earned a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
4. What is your family background?
My mom and dad are both from South Georgia. My dad joined the Navy and as a result, I moved a lot. My parents divorced and we settled in Glen Burnie, Maryland. I grew up in single-parent home where my mother working overnight while I was in high school was normal. Seeing her work hard to make sure we had our basic needs met motivated me to want to help others in similar situations and further my education. I come from a family that has a lot of secrets and from that, it's pretty divisive. So I am working on recreating my own family traditions. Among my siblings, I am the first to finish school, but I have a few cousins who completed college as well.
5. Do you have any "firsts" recognized by your family?
I am the first of my family to move out of the country.
Dear First Gen,
Have you always been told to be patient? I’m betting the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
Do you often have to tell others to have patience? Again, probably a YES!
Are you good at exercising patience? Well, that may be a different story!
Tell me: How do you exercise patience?