Working full-time is not easy, and job-hunting is no picnic either. Work is stressful and it can be complicated. The work on your desk is typically the easy part. The ‘people’ part of any job is another story!
We can talk to ourselves about our problems and most of us do, but an outside opinion gives us perspective we can’t get on our own.
You need friends and confidantes who can help you sort through the many issues that you’ll run into at work and on the job search trail. Here are five people everybody needs in their corner.
The Non-Critical Listener
You need a non-critical listener with an empathetic streak to hear you out when you need to vent. It doesn’t matter whether your point of view is right or wrong; your Non-Critical Listener friends is there to listen and to remind you that your emotions and opinions matter. Your Non-Critical Listener could be your best friend, your roommate, your mom, your sweetheart or anyone with a kindly bent and a lot of patience.
It’s essential to have a Non-Critical Listener in your corner, but be careful not to get all of your advice from this friend!
The non-stop affirmation you get from the Non-Critical Listener can lull you into thinking that your point of view is unquestionable and righteous, and keep you from looking at your own place in whatever isn’t working for you right now.
The Brutally Honest Advisor
On the opposite end of the spectrum from your friend the Non-Critical Listener is another essential pal. This is the Brutally Honest Advisor. The BHA could be one of your parents, a sibling (siblings are great at bursting bubbles!) or anyone with whom you share enough trust to take the unvarnished truth the Brutally Honest Advisor dishes out. You might think you’re underpaid at work because you’ve got a Masters Degree and you took a pay cut to get the job.
Your Brutally Honest Advisor may tell you that you’re still at the bottom of the learning curve in the job and haven’t produced anything significant for your employer yet — so why are you thinking about a pay raise?
Often you will find that your point of balance and forward motion falls halfway between your Non-Critical Listener’s advice and your Brutally Honest Advisor’s guidance. Listen to your trusty gut and that point of balance will emerge!
A mentor is often somebody who’s older than you, but they don’t have to be older — your mentor only has to know more about life and the business world than you do. Here is Eliza talking with her mentor, Greg:
Eliza: So I’m thinking about going to grad school.
Greg: What kind of program?
Eliza: I don’t know.
Greg: You don’t know? Why would you be interested in grad school for the sake of grad school, if you don’t have a specific interest?
Eliza: Because if I go to grad school, I’ll have better credentials.
Greg: For what? Grad school is not normally about reinvention and exploration. Lots of business schools, for instance, want you to tell them what kind of work you plan to do once you graduate and even who you plan to work for, before they will admit you.
Eliza: Why do they do that?
Greg: Because they sell new recruits by keeping their placement numbers high. They have to place their fresh graduates into good jobs or new students will not arrive next fall. If you enter B-school already knowing what you want to do with your MBA, you’re easier to place. If you have no idea what you want to do, that raises the valid question “Why are you applying to grad school?” It’s an educational institution — not a hideout from grownup life.
Eliza: That makes sense. Maybe I should do some reflection and think about my goals before getting any deeper into grad-school research.
Greg: That would be my suggestion.
A coach is a person who challenges you. Often our friends won’t do that, but if you can find a friend or relative who will challenge you and inspire you to try new things, you’re in great shape!
You can coach your friends, too. To coach someone, you don’t have to be a subject-matter expert (although you undoubtedly are an expert in many things). You only have to listen carefully and probe to learn more about what your friend is thinking and feeling. You can make suggestions for things for them to try, ruminate on, or learn more about.
A coach is a good listener, but they wouldn’t do you much good as a coach if all they did was listen to you and say “There, there, my darling — it sounds awful what you’ve been through.” Your coach-y friend wants to help you overcome your obstacles, not just commiserate with you on how nasty or insurmountable those obstacles are.
The Non-Business Friend
The last essential person you need in your brain trust is a non-business friend. Many people spend all their time with folks who work in the same profession or industry (or even the same building!) they do. That’s no good. You need at least one friend who won’t let you talk about your job when you two are together, and who’ll make you forget your workplace or job search troubles for a little while via a game of Scrabble or some other diversion.
You can’t solve every problem in your head. Your Non-Business Friend will pull you outside for a walk or a trip to the farmer’s market when you need it most, and in so doing remind you that life goes on whether our most vexing business problems get solved right away or not.