Your network matters: Five ideas for supportive connections

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The notion that you become like the five people you spend most of your time with may be an oversimplification of an important concept: who we surround ourselves with matters. I’ve latched on to this idea over the last year as I’ve worked to create my own business.

Working for yourself can be psychologically challenging

I realized how much safer I felt working as a communicator within an organization. We’re so often behind the scenes unless we act as media spokespeople. This means we’re crafting messages, coaching, training people, creating strategy and content for a brand that isn’t us.

And sure, that can backfire at times — for example, if how the brand behaves doesn’t align with your own values and you’re not able to influence it. I always worried people would judge me as a communicator because of how the brand was behaving. But, at the end of the day, it’s the brand. It’s not you. This changes when you’re actively working on your own personal brand or business.

Criticism is rampant in our society. And so when you’re putting yourself and your ideas out there, you’re exposing yourself to potential criticism that can be hard to stomach.

This is why it’s so important to have a core support network that understands your values, what you’re trying to do, or even if they don’t, they love you unconditionally and will support you through your evolution.

The people closest to us can hurt us most

Unfortunately, so often the people closest to us are our biggest critics. If you’re someone who is concerned by what people think (who isn’t to some degree?), then take a moment to consider who personifies that feeling for you… who comes to mind when you picture being judged? Is it someone in your family?

While the family members may think they’re doing it out of love, my hypothesis is their critique or criticism is more likely a reflection of their own fears. It’s got more to do with them than with you — as with most criticism.

But knowing that doesn’t make it hurt less. And if we’re not careful, their opinions can attach to our own self-doubt and trigger an internal crisis.

I love Brené Brown’s concept of cheap seat feedback. This is feedback that comes from people who aren’t willing to get down into the arena themselves. In Dare to Lead, she says:

The most important seats in the arena, the ones we need to be able to focus on, especially in difficult times, are reserved for empathy and self-compassion. In the empathy seat, or seats, we just need one or two people who know our values and support our efforts to put them into action. And the self-compassion seat is for us.

Brené Brown

I was talking with a friend who is a small business owner about the topic of supporters and she shared some of the critiques she’s heard, including family members asking why she doesn’t just get a real job, as if working within a system is better than trying to make your own thing. Ouch, thanks. Okay, I get it, you wouldn’t do what I’m doing. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

It may be necessary to look beyond your immediate face-to-face relationships for your network of support. It’s helpful to know or expose yourself to people who are also in the arena. It’s great to be around people who have open minds, who will show you support and whose opinions you truly value because they’re relevant and come from a place of caring vs. fear (and they generally aren’t offered unsolicited).

Five ideas for creating a network of support

1) Attend local events for innovators and business owners

When I decided to take the path of self employment, I started attending events locally. I met some great people and had inspired conversations. I also knew it would push me out of my comfort zone, which is so good for us.

2) Connect online

There are so many amazing people out there who are happy to see others succeed. They have abundance mindsets, meaning they don’t see another person’s success as an indication that there’s less for others. They believe there’s plenty to go around and love, support and kindness help to fuel progress. Find those people and connect with them. Give them your support. One of my favourite people to talk with about business and life is someone I’ve never met face to face. We’ve got this fabulously connected world, so let’s use it to our advantage.

3) Read books or listen to podcasts by people you admire

We don’t all get to hang out with visionaries on a regular basis, but we can expose ourselves to them and their ideas. Reading is a great way to do this. Podcasts are great too. If you admire someone’s perspective, accomplishments, etc., look for ways to consume more of their content. It can help to validate your direction and your thinking or challenge you to evolve in the best possible way.  

4) Be selective about who you spend your time with

I’ve got some friends who have always been there for me. I’ve never felt judged by them. They don’t all live locally so I will go out of my way to get a dose of them. They know me and they love me anyway.

As we evolve as people, we might start to notice that not everyone in our network supports us. Pay attention to how you feel after spending time with someone. If you come away feeling down about yourself, your path or life, consider whether that’s how you’d like to feel.

Typically I feel great when I’m around people who like to discuss ideas. When we get to discussing people and even gossiping, I lose interest.

5) Have boundaries

I posted on my Instagram last week about shoulding ourselves to death. Sometimes we hang out with people, family included, because we feel we SHOULD. But we don’t feel good about it.

This relates to point 4.

In these situations, having some boundaries can help. Protect yourself and your immediate family first. Don’t feel bad about that. Examples of boundaries include limiting the length of time you have contact with the person, or limiting how frequently you see them. You can also make a conscious choice to not bring up certain topics or to change the subject/not engage/walk away if something comes up. Rob Bell, one of my favourite podcasters, has a great episode on this topic.

Finding supporters doesn’t mean ignoring criticism

Not all criticism is bad. I’m not suggesting we put ourselves in a bubble and avoid all opinions that might go against our own. Quite the opposite in fact.

I’m suggesting surrounding yourself with people who understand your values, love you and will help to push you to become a better version of yourself. This means they’re happy for you, for your accomplishments and will have open conversations about how we can grow. These kinds of relationships require us to be willing to see our own faults and opportunities for improvement.

Sometimes if someone is hurting, they may tear you down because it gives them some immediate relief …that’s not the type of criticism you need because it has nothing to do with helping you. That said, that person might need some support from you. Just keep your boundaries in mind. Giving to others is a beautiful thing that has been shown to help us succeed further (check out Adam Grant’s work on this), but it is possible to give too much.

Connect with me on Instagram and share what you’re up to so I can give you my support! And if you found this content helpful, please share it with others!

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