Having Each Other’s Back

By Ana Ceballos

I recall at a very early age having to take care of my father and support my mother.  I began to work at the young age of 11 helping my parents pick the bountiful fruits of the Central Valley.  And at the age of 15 I started to clean tables as a “busgirl”.  I did this to help support my family when at times my father could not provide due to his constant drinking.  As I grew older, I realized that I had developed a lack of trust in others and a mentality of “do it yourself, don’t rely on others”.  I was determined and perseverant, and I knew that I could count and rely on the survival skills that I had built growing up to help me through any situation.  Despite having been a first-generation college graduate and the first in my family to pursue a professional career, there were times when I did not trust in my own capabilities.  I have had moments where I also felt alone, working in silos, wanting to reach out to others, to ask questions, or ask for help, yet not doing so out of fear that I would burden people, or that I would come across as not capable.  I remember thinking, “Well, I will just have to figure it out and do it myself,” and many times I did.  The experience of accomplishing something by myself was gratifying, but at times it also left me feeling bitter, drained, exhausted, and in need of a break.  Yet I have also worked in various settings of higher education and collaborated with colleagues on projects which have all been fruitful, satisfying, and rewarding.  I now look back and realize some of those experiences opened the door to my own individual personal and professional growth.  From them, I would learn to trust, be resourceful, and rely on others.  From this I would experience what it was like to “have each other’s back” at work.  I sometimes still find myself reflecting on those experiences, the people, the goals, the triumphs and fears – all part of the continuous journey and growth in the profession – and what having each other’s back at work means, how it feels, and how it can be developed.

For example, a few years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to explore this notion of offering and receiving support from colleagues at work when I was asked to form part of a new team – the Porterville College Education Careers team – whose mission is “to prepare, support, and inspire students along a successful path toward teaching and careers in education.”  What I learned quickly through our first team meetings in 2018 is that each member possessed areas of expertise that I like to refer to as gifts.  I knew that I also came with gifts to offer as a Counselor, and while I knew my colleagues had gifts of their own to share, part of me felt that I still needed to trust more fully in my gifts.  Perhaps this feeling of needing to trust more was due to my upbringing where I was taught to be strong, that to get something done you needed to do it yourself, and that no one else would do it for you.

Over the years as I worked with teams, I learned to trust more.  The Education Careers team developed a rapport over time through consistent and constant meetings, and as we did I could feel myself opening more and accepting the other team member’s gifts, as well as offering my own.  As I began relaxing, trusting, and allowing for support to flow naturally – as well as opening to creativity – I found myself actively engaged and excited with our team’s mission and everyone’s willingness to share their gifts freely.  The moments where I felt tempted to figure it out and do it myself diminished as the memories grew of my team, our experiences, and the support each member offered generously.  Trusting became more natural for me, and I found that our efforts as a team continued to strengthen, expand, and solidify.  This experience would challenge me to put fully into practice what I had learned over the years, and let go of some misconceptions I had acquired growing up.

In time, we began to see the fruits of our labor.  The program began to grow, student graduation and retention rates increased, and partnerships within campus, outside of campus with universities, K-12 schools, and community partners solidified.  The work we started and gradually opened ourselves to experience began to pay off not only with students but within us.  I had grown and I knew I would continue to grow as a professional – not alone but with the support of my colleagues.

I like to say that “having each other’s back” at work, for me, means trusting one another, offering our areas of expertise freely to the team, relying on each other, being open to growing together and as individuals.  It also means finding the anchor that keeps us motivated to do the work to show up and be vulnerable, creative, and open to the experience.  In the case of the Education Careers team, I considered our anchor to be our common goal of supporting students in their path towards a career in education.  Another key component of forming a team that has each other’s back is being comfortable with vulnerability to see our own strengths, as well as the areas where we can grow, and in turn demystify.

Overall, I felt that I had found the answer of how it felt and looked “to have each other’s back”.  I felt supported, secure, and confident.  The team offered diverse areas of expertise, experiences, and thought processes.  Such a team can be developed gradually and progressively through openness, trust, vulnerability, and a common goal.  I am grateful for the experience, and for my colleagues – excellent individuals whose strengths have helped me grow in more ways than one, and who have fostered a greater understanding of what it is to form a team and have “each other’s back”.  These great colleagues, humans, and mentors are:  Dr. Robert Simpkins, Kimanthi Warren, Primavera Arvizu, Professor Karen Bishop, Dr. Michelle Pengilly, Professor Jacqueline Pennell-Meredith, Michael Carley, DJ Vanderwerff, Jacqueline Escareno, and Frida Mendez.

I opened myself to the experience of forming part of the Education Careers team, and the experience not only produced fruits for students but for myself as well.  I take the lessons learned to take risks more often, be vulnerable and open, try new strategies, be resourceful, and to trust more in the capability that lies inside myself and others.  I felt that I had grown in leadership skills, creativity, and determination.  I led several of our team meetings, coordinated events, formed and strengthened partnerships, and – most importantly – grew in trusting not only myself but also my colleagues.  I grew in gratitude for the diversity of the Education Careers team that united us in accomplishing a common goal.  Most importantly, the experience also helped me to see myself and my own gifts more clearly which led me to grow in gratitude for my parents and the upbringing that shaped me to be the person I am today.  I always say I would not be here if it was not for them, they are my rock and my motivation and continue to play a positive role in me.  We are all part of various teams in life, and if we are actively open to the experience we will continue to grow.  I can now see more clearly what it means to “have each other’s back” at work – and in life.

Ana Ceballos is a Counselor Faculty member at Porterville College.  Ana was born in Michoacán, Mexico and immigrated with her family to the United States at the age of five.  She attended Porterville College, earning an AA degree in Social Science, before transferring to CSU-Fresno and earning a BA in Psychology and an MS in Counseling, Student Services option, as well as the Pupil Personnel Service (PPS) Credential.  For over 15 years, Ana has dedicated her energy and time in working in the field of education, including the K-12 system as a Substitute Teacher for Fresno Unified School District & Project Specialist for Fresno County Office of Education, and at UC-Merced as K-14 Education Preparation Specialist.  She has also served as a facilitator for Parent Institute for Quality of Education (PIQE) and Parent Empowerment Program (PEP), and the CSU-Fresno College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).  For the past 8 years Ana has supported students at Porterville College as a Counselor for EOPS/CARE & CalWORKs, the Student Support Services (SSSP) program, undocumented student support services, online counseling, and the Teacher Education program. She has also served as Counselor lead for AB705 and assisted in its 2019 implementation. Ana finds it rewarding to work alongside great colleagues at PC who are passionate about providing equitable opportunities and a safe, welcoming, and resourceful environment to all students.

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