No One Can Do It Alone. Here’s How To Find Your Village

Fortune Well August 17, 2023

Lifestyle

No One Can Do It Alone. Here’s How To Find Your Village

You know that saying “Behind every successful woman, there’s a group chat hyping her up”? That’s the story of my life. And I’m grateful to have several. Listen, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the support, encouragement, and occasional hard truths from my group chats. Though I feel like the version more appropriately written for my circumstances would say “Behind every perfectionist, there’s a group chat reminding her she’s human (and perfect just the way she is).”

There’s my bestie chat, my book club chat, my journalism chat, my new mom chat, and my accountability chat. The bestie chat is for planning brunch dates and discussing overall life happenings. The journalism chat (aka The Real Housewives of Journalism) is to bitch about the industry (hey, it’s necessary to have a healthy outlet to help keep your head on straight) and share salary ranges and job openings; and the book club chat (BRB, reading) is comprised of two-thirds of former journalists, so it’s a little bit of the former chat, plus we meet up every couple of months for a virtual book club where we read whatever we like and then report back to the group (as a result, my TBRlist is out of control). We also have a running Gchat where we proofread each other’s emails, resumes, and cover letters.

The new mom chat, so aptly named “The Mamas” after Helena Andrews-Dyer’s memoir about Black motherhood, is pretty self-explanatory and has been a lifeline in these early years of parenthood. Then the accountability chat, aka the Mastermind Crew, helped me lay the foundation for the very book you’re reading today, although the chat has evolved over the years from a monthly FaceTime call to an ongoing text thread. All of these chats—and the incredibly smart and talented women in them—have played an instrumental part in my success.

These chats make up my circle of trust and community of care. It’s also composed of my husband, Jeff; my sister, April; my best friend, Pam; and a host of other people I’m lucky to call part of my village, whether I know them in person or solely through social media. Who’s in your crew? More often than not, they’re the people who believe in you when you fail to believe in yourself. They’re also the people who can help you silence your inner critic by replacing those negative thoughts with kind words and reminding you of the badass that you truly are. They’re there for pep talks, cold drinks, and warm hugs—what more could you want? When you find your people, love them hard and don’t let them go. But how do you find them?

Building a circle of trust and a community of care requires two things: courage and vulnerability. Admittedly, these two things are like kryptonite to a perfectionist. What? I ask for help? You’ve got to be kidding. There are people who’d rather stub their pinky toe than do that. (It’s me. I’m people.) And yet, this ego that convinces us we don’t need anybody, we don’t need help, and we can do it all on our own is precisely what’s gotten many of us in the unsustainable situations we’re in now—feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, stretched thin and too far. It’s gotten us nowhere, quite frankly, or at least nowhere good. We’re on a one-way train to burnout, baby (don’t worry, we’ll take more about burnout soon)! But there’s a different way: leaning into your community, trusting they will show up, and being vulnerable enough to let them in.

The individualism that is so prevalent in Western culture will brainwash you into believing you can do everything on your own and that you don’t need help, but that’s simply not true. That’s not how we’re designed as humans. We are hardwired to live within the community; it’s just that infrastructure doesn’t always exist around us, so it’s up to us to build it. Yup, that’s right, you have to BYOC, build your own community.

Friendships, like any relationship, require work, and finding your people isn’t always easy, especially once you’re in the “real world” and your best friends, whom you once shared a dorm with, are now strewn about the country.

In an article for Fortune, I interviewed friendship coach and author Danielle Bayard Jackson about making friends as an adult. She said that waiting for the perfect meet cute is a recipe for disaster. Instead, she encouraged people to start with a simple hello, like Adele or Lionel Richie (depending on your generation and musical tastes). So how do you do it, how do you find your people? Keep reading for a few tips.

 

Be Social

Perhaps one of the most natural places to make friends as an adult is at work. After all, that’s where you’re likely spending most of your time anyway. But doing so admittedly looks a bit different than in pre-pandemic days with hybrid office environments. To foster a workplace friendship, Jackson recommends sending a Slack message or email to a colleague after a Zoom meeting, following up on a question they asked or something interesting they shared. You could write, “Hey, I’m just reaching out because I’m so glad you asked that question. I was thinking about it, but you were bold enough to ask so I wanted to say thank you,” Jackson suggests.

You could also stumble upon your new bestie at the local coffee shop or at your yoga studio. If you work from the coffee shop or go to the same class every week, you’re bound to run into a few familiar faces.

“Some of us underestimate how much intention plays a role in building friendships,” Jackson said. “This creates what we call familiar strangers—people you see all the time—and now it becomes less intimidating for me to go up and compliment your shoes or ask you a question about the venue we’re in because we see each other all the time.”

You can also try reaching out to people you know and seeing who they know. We all know that person who happens to know everyone. They’re usually extroverts, and they enjoy introducing people to each other (this would be me; there are few things I love more than introducing people I know would absolutely hit it off or someone who can help solve a problem for someone else). “Reach out to that person and make your desire known,” Jackson suggested. “So many of us aren’t making friends because we feel like it makes us look desperate.”

In reaching out to a super-connector, you can say, “Hey, I’m trying to get a little more connected in this town, and I thought of you because you’re always out and about doing something cool. I wanted to ask if there’s anything around here you feel is worth checking out. Or are there any upcoming events you would recommend?”

And don’t underestimate the power of social media. I’ve met some of my favorite people on Twitter and Instagram, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know offline, and others that exist primarily in the comments and DMs. For example, I met my journalism and accountability group chat members on Twitter years ago and we’ve been rocking ever since.

 

Be Vulnerable

Making new friends as an adult does require you to put yourself out there—both emotionally and physically. But once you get over the mental block, you may meet a new friend or two. It just may require a bit of creativity and an open mind on your part.

“It all starts with connection,” Jackson said. “Friendship begins with rapport, and rapport begins with hello. Don’t overwhelm yourself when trying to make new friends; simply start by saying hello.”

Now here comes the hard part: asking for help. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier than it sounds once you a) admit you need help and b) open yourself up to receiving it. I know I know, I know . . . you’re worried about what people will think if you ask for help. You’re worried about how you’ll look as if you’re weak, desperate, not in control, or somehow “less than.” I want to let you know none of that is true. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Knowing when to ask for help, when to wave the little white flag and say, “Hey, I can’t do this on my own. I could use a hand or two,” is actually a sign of strength.

I know as perfectionists we’re often hellbent on doing everything ourselves. It gives us a semblance of control in an otherwise chaotic world. Or perhaps we’ve been burned by getting close to other people before, so we believe we’re better off doing it ourselves. It’s what my mentor-in-my-head, Elayne Fluker, author of Get Over “I Got It” and host of the Support is Sexy podcast, refers to as “I Got It” Syndrome. When I interviewed her for ZORA about this phenomenon, which is usually found in highly ambitious women, she explained that having it all doesn’t mean doing it all alone.

It’s easy to convince yourself, especially when you’re looking at someone else’s social media, or if you’re a parent who works outside the home (even though I WFH, you know what I mean), that everyone else has it all together. Everyone else is doing it on their own. But that’s simply not true.

“A lot of times we’re doing things on our own just to prove that we can,” Fluker said. “The most successful people in the world will tell you they have support—that there’s a team behind them, they have a mentor or family that’s helping out. No one’s doing it alone and those who are, are struggling to maintain that way.”

Case in point: At one point last year, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (well, evening) where I was attempting to get my then thirteen-month-old daughter to sleep on her own. Jeff typically handled the bedtime routine of diaper changing, putting on pajamas, and reading a book after I’ve finished nursing her, but on this particular evening he was at an event, so I was on my own. “I got this,” I said to psych myself up. “I can handle this.”

In the movie version of my life with Morgan Freeman narrating, he would say, “She would soon learn that she could not, in fact, handle it.” Try as I might, this girl simply wouldn’t go to sleep. I would rock her to sleep, gently place her in her crib, and she’d sit back up. I’d tried again, put her in her crib, and she’d pull herself up to stand. Eventually, I gave up and was pacing around her room while holding her, trying to lull her back to sleep. Jeff came home to find both me and the baby crying.

After he took over, I curled up in the fetal position on our bed and continued crying. I was also trying to think of who I could reach out to at that moment for support, a much-needed pep talk. It was roughly nine o’clock CT, so there was a time difference to consider if I reached out to my East Coast friends. But eventually, I decided to text my friend Dore in Jersey. “What if I’m not cut out for this mom life, Dor?”

To which she emphatically responded, “L’Or, it’s too late now and SECOND OF ALL, YES YOU ARE.” Then she spent the next thirty minutes or so talking me off the proverbial ledge and followed up with a phone call the next day to see how I was doing. But by that time I’d already seen another mom’s Instagram stories about how she’d renovated her husband’s home office while he was away on a two-week business trip. Mind you, she has two young children at home as well. Here she was thriving while her husband was gone for two weeks, and meanwhile, I could barely survive two hours. I felt like a failure again (thanks, social media). But Dore reminded me that I was doing great.

And when I posted my own Instagram story about how unbelievably hard all of it was—raising a tiny human, working a full-time job, writing this book—my community showed up and showed out. A postpartum doula I follow on Instagram messaged me right away: “First, choose a date night. Then, let me know a couple of Sundays I can come over to help.” My friend Marissa asked, “Do you need help this weekend?’ and then offered to watch Violet while Jeff and I transformed our living room/home office into a Christmas wonderland the weekend before Thanksgiving.

I’m not the best at asking for help; it’s not in my DNA. I like to consider myself pretty self-sufficient, and I don’t love relying on other people to get things done (perhaps I’ve been scorned by too many group projects gone awry). But parenting has been a humbling experience, and I’ve had to open myself up to receiving help more than ever before.

You can apply the same concept to your life, even if you’re not a parent. There is no rule saying that you have to do it all alone. Nobody is doing it alone. That confluence you’re comparing yourself to? She lives within a twenty-minute drive from both sides of their family. She has helped. That CEO you admire who never seems to miss a workout, let alone her kids’ cheerleading competitions and soccer games? She has helped. Most likely in the form of an executive assistant and/or paid childcare.

And the people who swear up and down that they are doing it alone, that they are self-sufficient? They’re lying. Or struggling. Or maybe even both. Because that’s not how we’re built as humans. We’re designed to live in communities of care, even if our society is designed to make that hard to do. Simply put, we need each other. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength to realize when you can’t do it on your own. It’s a sign of strength to humble yourself enough to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength because doing so has the ability to improve your well-being all around.

“This is not about just getting support for success; this is about getting support to be well because we [in the United States] also lead in a number of heart- and stress-related diseases,” Fluker said. “Think about how you can get support for your peace of mind; that is what’s important. We take care of friends, family, and others, but we have to take care of ourselves.”

If you’re not sure how to ask for help, consider providing your circle with a menu of options. In Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study newsletter, she once shared a Google Form from a reader that lists out all the ways we’d often like our community to show up for us. This works well if you’re sick, if you’re recovering from an injury or surgery if you’ve just had a baby, or if you’ve also had your own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. In a “perfect” world (in quotes because, again, perfection does not exist), you could provide your loved ones with this list of things they could do to help you ahead of time so that in moments of crisis they can jump to action without having to ask what you need. And if you don’t know what you need, take some time to consider it now.

What makes you feel better on a bad day? How do you want someone to show up for you when you’re having a hard time? Perhaps they could pick up groceries or drop off your favorite carry-out. Maybe they could sit with you and watch terrible reality shows or cheesy holiday movies, even in the dead of summer. Or they could send you funny memes and TikToks to cheer you up.

Our friends and family aren’t mind readers, so they won’t know what we need unless we tell them. There’s no shame in your game. Be bold and unapologetic about the help you need. People, I’ve found, genuinely want to help (hey, we’re human; it makes us feel good!). They just aren’t always sure how to do it in a way that’s truly helpful to you right now in this season of your life. Do the honest and brave thing by letting them in, put down your perfectionist guard, and open up your heart to receive care from your community. You’ll be so glad you did.

 

Reflection Questions:

• When was the last time you asked for help? How did it feel? How did the other person react?


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