I am what I am because of who we all are. —Definition of Ubuntu, an African ethic of interconnection, offered by Liberian peace activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. —African proverb

For nearly six years, I only coached my clients individually, just them and me in the conversation. They often told me things like— “I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. I must be the only one. I know this isn’t how people are supposed to feel.” I would tell them that their feelings were absolutely normal. That’s why the kleenex live on my couch. But, they only half believed me.

I often wished that my clients could be a fly on the wall for each other, able to watch each other’s sessions and realize how truly not alone they were. Then, I started offering small coaching groups in which participants could support and witness each other. I was immediately surprised by how powerful it was for participants to see each other nodding and smiling along with each other. They knew they shared a common experience.

In a culture that worships the “self-made man,” asking for help can feel dangerous.

We’re taught that to be successful, we shouldn’t need anyone else. We’re taught that if you rely on other people to help you move forward, then you’re not really successful. But, the truth is, self-reliance is an illusion. No one can follow a calling very far on their own. None of us alone have all the answers.

You might worry that if you ask for help, you’ll never be able to pay the other person back. Our culture tends to see reciprocity is a quid pro quo. “You give to me, so I need to give back to you,” as opposed to “You give to me, and I commit to paying it forward.” Cultures before ours knew that when we know how to dance in the flow of giving and receiving, we weave strong webs in which our communities can flourish.

You might believe that you’re the only one experiencing your struggle and that other people have it all figured out. The more you believe this, the scarier it becomes to reach out to other people and share what’s going on. The less you reach out, the less support you receive, and the less likely you are to reach your goals. And, the more you alone you feel. You can end up feeling trapped in a loneliness to stuckness back to loneliness feedback loop.

When you gather people around you who have your back, it’s so much easier to be brave.

When you have the courage to reach out for support from people who care, you’ll remember that stress and suffering are normal parts of our human experience. The support you receive will make it easier for you to meet your goals. In turn, this will build momentum, which helps you reach out again, increasing your odds of success even more. The cycle carries forward.

As Chip and Dan Heath write in SwitchYou might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical evidence: You are doing things because your peers do them. Behavior is contagious. It’s much easier to adopt new behaviors when you surround yourself with people who engage in the behaviors you want to develop and believe you can change.

It’s nearly impossible to get clear about where you’re headed in your career on your own. Your work is a relationship between you and the people you serve. It’s an ongoing, unfolding conversation about what is needed and how to meet those needs. To get clear about where you’re headed, you must learn more about the needs of the people you’re called to serve. And you must learn from others who have made similar journeys and are already doing work you’re drawn to.

In the old stories, the hero never goes it alone.

After the hero accepts their call, they receive help from allies— magical helpers, fairy godmothers, secret agents, protective amulets, and all sorts of other sources of support. The word ally comes from the Latin word alligare, which means “to bind together.” An ally is a friend, mentor, or collaborator who shares support, encouragement, mentorship, connections, and ideas.

One of the first tasks on the journey to creating work you love is to gather allies who support you.

I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on how you might gather your allies on your path through work and life.

Grab your journal and a pen. Even better, find a friend with whom you can reflect on the questions with. When you’re ready, pause, feel your breath, and write down what comes up in response to the following questions.

Ask yourself—

  • Who in your life really believes in you?
  • Who might push you to move past fear and grow into the person you want to be?
  • Who might you like to check in with regularly about your progress?

I encourage you to reach out to the people you thought of, share what you’re working on, and discuss the possibility of setting up regular conversations to support each other. Taking the time to create a team of support now will help you to progress much faster with the work ahead.

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