A business guru’s best-selling book told me some time ago that I have the wrong friends. The advice was that, if you want to be a winner, you have to associate with winners. It was clear from the text that by ‘winner’ was meant someone who had a track record of being a success in their chosen field, and by implication, someone who had/is making money and establishing a name for themselves. Winners are people who are leaders, innovators, visionaries, and above all, who are financially secure beyond most folks’ wildest dreams.
This rather rattled me. I’d recently returned to that renowned Canadian backwater, Nova Scotia, after about 22 years away. Aside from the glorious lakes and natural beauty the main attractions were my friends. Despite the years that I’d been away, the bonds we’d established in our young adult years were strong enough that I was willing to come back, even though someone had told me you never can. In trying to get my coaching and consulting business up and running I realised quickly that most of my friends had no clue about what I needed. They kept sending me job ads of very interesting jobs with nice salaries and benefits with reputable organisations, but I didn’t want a job; I wanted an independent business.
They also kept visiting, phoning and inviting me to stay over or just to chat. Some of them dragged me out to go dog walking. They invited me to go to concerts, plays, house parties, whale watching, ferry rides, movies, bars, cemeteries and scenic places. They offered me their houses to live in. A couple of them did introduce me to influential people and interesting projects, but the rest, well, they just assumed that I knew what I was doing and I’d be OK. Many of them retired after decades of working. It was fascinating to see them shift gears and calm down. They became silent (and happy observers) of the freneticism of those of us still trying to make a living.
Ironically there were a few friends who were in high places – a deputy minister, a college principal. I made contact with them but somehow couldn’t face asking them for introductions to other people or for opportunities in their own organisations or spheres of influence. I was held back by a sense of failure. I didn’t mind letting my worker-bee friends in on the secret that I’m starting afresh, but somehow the ones who’d moved on to becoming minor glitterati: the ones who maybe could offer me the introductions I needed and craved; I simply could not disclose to them that I needed their help.
Gradually work started flowing in. My friends kept coming around, emailing and phoning. There were some very dark nights where I wondered about everything including my sanity. I didn’t often speak of it, but when I did, I was immediately understood. Not judged, placated or pitied: understood. Efforts I’d made and forgotten about unexpectedly started surfacing as work contracts and blissful sleep and my sense of humour and joy returned.
I followed the rules about networking; I refined my elevator speech and then abandoned it. I learnt something about ‘education marketing’ (no, it is not about marketing colleges and universities) and combined conventional and virtual technology in reaching out. I took numerous courses. Through all that I met new people who introduced me to other new people. I have new friends from worlds very different from the one I share with my old friends.
Through all that I have come to disagree totally with the notion that you need to cultivate friends who can help you get ahead. Those aren’t friends: they’re tour guides, agents, mentors, coaches, and even well wishers, but they move on. Friends are the ones who know what makes your heart ache and what music makes you leap up from your chair. They’re the ones who make you feel safe and cared for, even when you don’t see them for a long, long time. They’re the ones who will cheer you on, sometimes totally bemused by what you’ve got yourself into. They talk with each other behind your back, not to judge you, but to figure out what they can do to make sure you’re OK.
My friends are winners in a race that the business gurus don’t much write about.
I’m really not enthusiastic about expedient friends.