When you picture success, what do you see? An independent and charismatic leader whose super power is making amazing business decisions without needing any input?
Maybe not exactly, but it’s probably something along those lines. As a culture, we admire independence and see it as a virtue, but the reality of success is a little different.
Truthfully, it can actually be bad for our careers to go it alone all the time. Success isn’t made overnight, and it certainly isn’t achieved without some help.
And it’s not just a matter of philosophy: Human beings need companionship. Isolation is, in fact, toxic. Patients coming out of surgery recover more slowly if there’s no one at home waiting for them. Solitary confinement is meant to be a punishment—and it is. And while these examples are extreme, they do serve to illustrate our natural need to have other people in our lives in order to be happy and healthy.
So, whether you already believe that everyone needs a helping hand in order to be the best they can be or you’re just following the science, it makes sense to figure out who the right people are for you to have in your support network and, more specifically, your sounding board. It goes without saying that having a sounding board that is constantly negative or pessimistic isn’t going to get you very far. But with the right people supporting you? Who knows what you can achieve.
Career coaching extraordinaire Richard Leider gives a great summary of the key people to have in your professional network in his book, Life Reimagined.
The best boards contain a diverse group of people, each of whom plays a different role: a committed listener, who holds up the mirror; a catalyst, who helps you get outside your comfort zone; a connector, who plugs you into other resources, people, and learning opportunities; a task master or trainer, who holds you accountable for doing what you say you’re going to do; and a mentor, who helps you keep your eye on the long view and the big picture.
As you’re thinking about your own professional development, consider whether you have these five individuals in your life. If not, who could fill these roles for you? You want to find people who really know and care about you and your goals—people who can be good listeners and ask tough questions, but more importantly, people you can be honest around. It won’t do you any good to have a connector or mentor you can’t have a candid conversation with. Ultimately, these are the people who can and will hold you accountable to action over endless ruminating.
While this works wonderfully as a thought exercise, like your sounding board, let’s favor action. Leider recommends starting immediately “by selecting one person who could make a difference to you.” Arrange to check in this person every few weeks to update him or her on your professional life, the progress you’re making toward your goals, and to see what he or she thinks of it all. To get started, consider this today: Who is your one person, and what do you want to be held accountable for?
Photo of people courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author