How to Develop, and Audit, Your Peer Support System
In this article, I discuss the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are “in your court”. People who will advocate for you, encourage you to explore your passions, and hold you accountable to treating yourself well. And if you don’t have those people in your life right now, well, then you need to go out and find them.
Show Gratitude for Your “Rocks”
Before you go and open a phone book to find more people to add to your tribe, it’s first important to take stock and show gratitude for the “rocks” in your life. You know who they are - these are the people who are there for you no matter what. I mean, they’re human, too, and maybe they’ve made some mistakes, but these people have proven that they are committed to you. They will be there through thick and thin. Literally.
Your rocks may include your parents, or your friends, or your friends’ parents, aunts and uncles, community members, and so on. If you are dating or married, then your partner is likely one of your rocks. These are the friends and coworkers who keep you going when you don’t even want to get out of bed. Whoever they are, you are so lucky to have these people in your life. Next time you see them, live openly and express what they mean to you and thank them for their support. You just need to intentionally acknowledge that you are appreciative of their friendship. It doesn’t have to be mushy or anything, just grab a beer or take a walk - whatever it takes.
I need to acknowledge that not everyone has “rocks” in their life. Some of us, of course, have lived through tragedy or family drama that has resulted in alienation of those people that could, under better circumstances, have been your rocks. I feel for anyone in this camp, but am happy to report that now, more than ever, there are options for people who need to establish a support system.
You might be thinking, “well, people can’t just manifest true connections out of the blue”. And I totally agree; finding those impactful, positive people to keep you motivated to reach your goals doesn’t happen overnight. But, we live in a time where connecting with an even larger, more connected, diverse support system you need might be easier than you think.
Expanding Your Support Community
Of course, the internet has produced some serious ills to society, including data breaches, foreign interference in our domestic goings-on, hacking, and hate speech. All that is frightening and upsetting (frankly, we can do better). But fortuitously, there are some very human, positive spaces within the internet, as well. This is the beauty of the internet - it reflects back to humanity whatever humanity poured into it in the first place. The internet is kind of like the Pensieve in Harry Potter - it can be dark but also beautiful, and it will also give you whatever you are searching for.
So anyway, if support is what you need, support is what you can get.
Despite its downsides, the internet is a fantastic tool for connecting us these days. Now that I am paying more attention to what is happening across social media and the blogosphere, I am coming across all kinds of amazing virtual groups that I think could really benefit other people. Reddit forums are on my radar because Reddit allows people to chat openly about specific topics and share links. I have barely dipped my toe into the Reddit world so far, but will definitely be exploring this platform as I continue to research cannabis; I figure, what more organic way to explore how individuals across the world actually perceive cannabis and its potential?
Interestingly, one way to find a good support community is to reach out to people who also “follow” the same influencers that you do. For example, many podcasters have such an expansive following that they encourage their followers to connect via local meet-up groups. I have recently joined one myself and have found it to be extremely encouraging so far.
As some readers will already know, I follow Cathy Heller’s Podcast, “Don’t Keep Your Day Job”, and listen to it every time she posts a new episode. Cathy has achieved a lot of notoriety, particularly when you look at how new her content is; she started recording her podcast in January 2017, and she has since been featured on Apple’s Featured Podcast, covered in Huffington Post and the NY Times, and has amassed 91,000 Instagram followers. Cathy Heller is a motivational influencer who regularly interviews successful business owners who left more traditional day-jobs to pursue and promote their real passions. She gathers tips and tricks to enable her listeners to do the same thing, which is curating their own style or voice and then making money doing what they love the most. While this podcast is likely not for everyone, it’s definitely for me. Cathy’s weekly dose of inspiration gets me through the challenges or self-doubt that I’ve experienced that week. I live in a one-bedroom apartment, so my husband frequently listens with me and he has found the podcast to be valuable, as well.
At the end of most of her podcast episodes, Cathy lets her listeners know that her team has connected with meet-up group leaders from across globe (most of the listeners are in North America, however there are followings in the UK and Australia, as well). A few months ago, before I became a full-time blogger, I knew that I wanted to join one of the groups, but not until I formally jumped into my new endeavor, cannabis blogging. But, the day that I put in my notice at work, I decided that there was no longer a reason not to sign up. Since then, I’ve connected with the leader and a few members of the Washington State “DKYDJ” (Don’t Keep Your Day Job) Group. As of right now, there are 27 members from across the state, but I expect it to continue to grow as Cathy’s influence grows. The group normally meets virtually, but we are planning on a physical meet-up later this Spring. If this type of arrangement sounds interesting to you, look into it - it’s free, there are no barriers to entry, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get back more than you put into it. Also, for someone starting a small business or a blog, joining an existing group can gain you some free exposure. Consider that sharing your story, your goals, your challenges, and your apprehensions can actually help you connect with people who may be interested enough to offer advice or want to help in some other way... or just be your fan! And remember - positive or negative, feedback is a gift. If you are in the throes of creating your own empire, you are likely going to need some outside perspective from time to time.
Meeting online, sharing your goals, and offering and receiving support - it’s just an entirely novel, new way that people are harnessing the power of human energy and excitement. And when we partner, we can achieve great things. Amy Poehler said it well, "Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life."
Partnering and collaborating offers you insights that you couldn’t get to on your own. All individuals have this thing called ego, and ego unfortunately can blind us to seeing our lives as they really are. Cy Wakeman, a leadership researcher and author who frequently writes about ego, says, “The ego is not your amigo” and “the Buddha called the ego the source of all suffering.” It is our ego that is actively at work, filling our heads with either feelings of pride or doubt that can cloud the reality of our contributions to the world. This is why some people, even after achieving success, are still plagued by feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt. What’s promising, though, is that through partnership and collaboration, we can supersede the ego, and get the facts, straight from someone that isn’t trapped within the stories about yourself that you have built in your mind.
So, while I definitely advocate for finding a sense of community online to supplement the support you get from “your rocks”, I don’t suggest prioritizing a virtual community over your actual community. There’s something to be said about the importance of maintaining close relationships with people within your physical proximity. Humans engage in so much unspoken communication when we engage in during face to face conversations that we miss out on when we communicate virtually. Additionally, for your health, it’s important that you give your body adequate exposure to sunlight. Sunlight is imperative for the regulation of our circadian rhythm which regulates sleep, stress levels, and appetite. There have also been research studies that point to the fact that people who spend a greater portion of the career working the graveyard shift are more susceptible to cancer. That said, be wary and do not put your physical health at risk by spending too much time on the computer connecting with others; make sure you get a breath of fresh air at least once per day. But, if you truly do not have people among your friends or family that are supporting your goals and your truth, and you have found a group of people online is what makes you feel whole, loved, and respected - then don’t let this positive resource go! We all get by with a little help from our friends, whether they are near or far.
Via Traditional Methods
Of course, there are many other, more traditional methods for expanding one’s support network, including but not limited to the following:
Workplace. Many people find a strong support and a sense of community in the workplace, and this is especially true for people who have inherent fascination with industry they work in. Even for those who don’t find their industry particularly fulfilling, strong communities can be created in the workplace based on shared endeavors, common experience, and established trust.
Sports/Clubs. In most sizable cities, you can find clubs for people who share a common interest, ie: bowling league, knitting club, soccer league, church group, etc. Being around others with a shared interest can spark life-long connections; for instance, I have a friend who participates in a weekly pottery club, and after a few years, she has become great friends with many of her fellow pottery classmates. Even if you aren’t very physically active or good with your hands, there’s still probably a local club for you. Ever played pub trivia? It’s a blast.
Support Groups. While I haven’t been to a support group session myself, I do have some friends who have either been a part of a support group or volunteered for one and have found both experiences to be rewarding. There are many resources online that can help people identify the right group for them, such as Mental Health America. While support groups can fill a void when someone has gone through a harrowing experience or suffers from an illness, support groups are not well suited to someone seeking more community in their everyday life
Volunteer. Volunteering provides an opportunity to connect with like-minded people. Giving back also feels inherently good; researchers have proven that when we are generous, our brains release chemicals that spark satisfaction and harmony. The benefits of volunteering have also been correlated with reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure, and longer life-span.
Give back to your “rocks” and others in your community. Actively ask your friends and acquaintances what they are passionate about, and if they confide in you about their hobby or side hustle, ask if you can help them out! See above for the benefits of being generous!
Auditing Your Support Group
I am a clear-cut cannabis advocate. My mantra is this: when applied in the correct ways, cannabis can solve most problems. I saw a post on Instagram yesterday that resonated with me because it said, “I had 99 problems, but CBD cured like 86 of them”. But, like any other input that can change your mind, body, mood, and motivation, I have to remember that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. One question I regularly ask of myself, to check in and ensure I’m auditing my cannabis habit is, “By smoking cannabis today, am I adding value to my life?” If the answer is yes, then I puff away and leave any feelings of guilt behind. But if the answer is uncertain, then maybe I’ll abstain for a few days until it feels like time to explore my own consciousness once again.
I think the same approach can be helpful when auditing the people you trust to be a part of your support system.
Just like with cannabis use, you do have to sit back once and awhile and audit your choices about who you associate with. If you ask the question, “does this person add value to my life” and then you have to think for a moment, then… well… perhaps it’s time to audit how much of your time and energy you give to this person.
Yes, I am kind of advocating for a Marie-Kondo-like audit of the people in your life. Do they spark joy? No? Then maybe don’t worry about what they think any more, and don’t go out of your way to book coffee with them next time. Holding onto people in your inner circle who do not spark joy, but rather cause tension or pain - this can actually be detrimental to your mental health and the strain can pull you away from your focuses. Even worse, research has shown that negativity can literally make you physically sick.
By the way, I realize that people are not things and are not to be disposed of. That part of the analogy doesn’t work; people are people and deserve respect above all else. But, the question to ask yourself is, do you want to bring this friendship with you into the future? The world will not stop turning if you decide that you don’t.
My husband is very knowledgable about mindfulness meditation, and so I have been able to learn some of the most valuable meditation and mindful tips from his practice. In writing about this topic, that of “consciously uncoupling” from people who you used to include in your inner circle, I am reminded of Loving Kindness meditation and I think that this concept can enhance the auditing process. Loving Kindness is a meditation practice in which the practitioner visualizes themselves or other people while offering well-wishes through reciting phrases like, “may you be well” and “may you be happy”. To learn more about Loving Kindness meditation, check out Ryan’s blog post about it here. I think Loving Kindness Meditation can play a huge role in auditing the people in your inner circle because, if you decide you need to consciously detach from someone, it’s all about wishing them happiness and loving kindness. Just… from afar. “I hope you do well and I hope I never see you again” is a perfectly healthy thought to have once in awhile. As long as you are treating others with respect and not creating pain for anyone, then this is a reasonable yet compassionate way to keep yourself sane.
For some kickass inspiration, read the very engaging letter that author and minimalist Joshua Fields Millbern wrote to his former “fake friends”. This is an honest depiction of the pain and struggle associated with replacing “lip-service” friends with true friends, but the article really highlights the clarity that comes after going through this process.
Depending on your career path, it may also be beneficial to pursue a professional mentorship. I have benefited from two professional mentors in the past, both who worked for my last company. Remember that a mentor doesn’t have to be your boss, per se, but can be anyone who understands and supports your professional goals and has the knowledge and leadership skills to help you get there. If you don’t think your direct manager has the chops to get you to your end destination, don’t fret. Consider reaching out to other leaders who you work with, or people you have come across on LinkedIn, and ask them if they would be open to meeting you for coffee to discuss a potential mentorship. Not every professional is going to have time to take on a protege, so if they decline, find and ask someone else!
Now that I have left my 9 to 5, I am again in the market for a mentor who can help guide me through the challenges that I will be facing in both the communications and cannabis industries. Toward this end, I am making connections with cannabis professionals, particularly women, at all of the industry events that I attend, knowing that some of these introductions could blossom into long-term partnerships. You never know who is going to be able to support you for future projects, so always be sure to put your best foot forward.
Be In Your Own Court
Now that I have reviewed how to gather and audit the people you have intentionally added to your tribe, it’s important that I uncover the most important person in the equation: You! There is nobody better suited than you to change your outlook for the future. There’s a quote by Henry Ford in which he said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Don’t get me wrong, three years ago I would have read that quote and rolled my eyes. But lately, I’ve been starting to realize the value in this statement. Essentially, if you think you are going to perform well, you are more likely to push through the challenges and make sure that you find success. If you think you are going to inherently fail, you can still “try” your best, but there really is no cheating the subconscious part of psyche, telling you to just give up already. Give yourself the chance to succeed by showing yourself the positive self-talk you deserve.