Unless you’re a mushroom, you won’t thrive in dark isolation. In fact, you’ll wither away in body and spirit. Yet plenty of entrepreneurs cut themselves off from others, essentially stunting their growth and hindering their ability to achieve work-life balance.
Human connection is a critical component of personal and professional success. I’ve spent a lifetime building relationships in and out of the office to boost my mental and emotional health, not to mention cushion me from bearing the full brunt of the tough stuff.
Case in point: In the late 2000s, my toy store startup teetered on the brink of closure. My co-founder and I were in over our heads. But instead of burying our heads in the sand, we bared our souls—and books—to the team we’d built. To our relief, our employees didn’t run for the hills. Rather, they rose to the challenge of picking our company up off the floor. Within two years, we all celebrated at being named one of Inc.’s fastest-growing companies in the U.S. That achievement would never have happened without a heckuva lot of authentic relationships forged on trust and honesty.
My experience is supported by the words of Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author. When asked by The Aspen Times about the importance of having a network to turn to, Dr. Bryson explains, “How we make decisions, how our whole frontal lobe functions—it’s related to the quality of the connections we receive.” In other words, we cannot fully function without friends.
Yes, it can be notoriously tough to find the time to cultivate friendships as an adult. But I urge you to try. You don’t have to become best friends with everyone you know. However, you should be ready to show a little vulnerability and openness.
Here’s how to start connecting today:
1. Join the water-cooler yakkers.
You’ll never meet anyone by sitting at your desk all day. Head out the door and find the gathering place where co-workers gab. Getting to know everyone on an informal level brings you into new spheres of influence and provides perspective. Plus, you’ll be the first rather than the last to know what’s going on because you won’t seem elusive or walled up.
Toiling in the C-suite? You especially need to make time for water-cooler conversations. Alison Gutterman, president and CEO of Jelmar, has made chitchat a habit by routinely stopping by to spend a few informal moments with people on her team. “Not only does this open communication between my employees and me, but it also satisfies our collective need for human connection and meaningful conversation,” Gutterman says.
2. Prioritize ‘we’ time.
You’ve already heard about scheduling “me” time. Now, I’m asking you to add some “we” time to the mix. In this situation, the “we” is friends and family. Literally block off time in your schedule for everything from your community center’s weekly basketball pickup game to your lunches with an awesome former boss. Consider those dates sacred, and try not to cancel or postpone them once they make it to your jam-packed calendar.
If you feel like this is initially a sacrifice of private moments, remind yourself that it’s important for long-term gains. As Foundr contributor Jonathan Chan notes, “Start treating your personal life like it’s a job and your family as if they’re important clients.” And when you’re in each situation, be there. Your full presence (sans phone in hand) shows you value the other person.
3. Build up your karma account.
For the next week, practice a mantra of helping whenever you can. Don’t wait for someone to ask for assistance: When you see someone in need, take action. After all, you’ll need the favor returned at some point, and the more karma you’ve accrued, the likelier it is to come back to you. You’ll be amazed how many friends and colleagues will come to your rescue in your toughest moments when you’ve been there for theirs.
Besides, it’s just appropriate and respectful to do the right thing, even if someone doesn’t immediately reciprocate. Yes, it’s tough to be nice to the awkward newbie in accounting who snubs you in the elevator. But maybe she is socially uncomfortable, and your smile is what she needs to slowly come out of her shell. Truly caring teachers often hear from troubled students decades later who claim their compassion was pivotal. Being altruistic in the moment can elicit positive ripples generations into the future.
Feel like you’re behind the eight ball in the friendship game? You can’t change history. Luckily, you can change the here and now. Set up a breakfast with a teammate or host a dinner party for friends you haven’t seen in a while. You can only get stronger in every possible way when you nurture your network.
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