I’ve never been the sort of person to have a best friend. That bothered me a lot, when I was younger–all I wanted was one person I could count on. One person I knew I could sit with in the cafeteria when I went to school each day. One person I could go to the movies with, on the weekends, or go shopping with before a school dance.
As I got older, though, I realized that I actually prefer being alone much of the time. (I also realized that was perfectly okay.) These days, I understand that having a strong network of people you can count on is far more valuable than having a single best friend. Each person in our lives has specific points of strength; creating a network allows you draw on those strengths when you need them. Perhaps more importantly, the more people in your network, the less you need to rely on any one person. That’s good for your friendship and your self-esteem.
But among all the people you’re connected to, these are the five you absolutely need in your life.
They might not always be your favorite people, but truth-tellers are essential. Each of us needs at least one person who will tell the honest truth when asked to do so. As a writer, I have a handful of friends I go to when I have new work ready; I turn to them because I know they’ll give me an honest response. Our friendship is secure enough that they can say This really isn’t working without the fear of hurting my feelings and therefore compromising our relationship. That doesn’t mean I like to hear it–but having access to the truth is simply invaluable.
(One caveat: people who offer to speak the truth without being asked for it are not truth-tellers. They’re saboteurs. We’ll talk about them next week, when I identify the five people you don’t need in your life. )
If there’s something specific you want to accomplish, you need a mentor. This is a person who has done what you want to do, who knows the field, and who can advise you how to get there based on personal experience. Mentors can open doors for you sometimes; when they can’t, they’ll offer a strategy for helping you open that door by yourself. They’re often the people who will point out opportunities you wouldn’t have considered.
Mentors encourage you to pursue those opportunities because they believe in you more than you can believe in yourself. That’s their most important job.
The Event Planner
Particularly useful in the workplace, but also an asset in community groups and families, event planners love to put on a show. They’ll take the reigns in planning a colleague’s retirement celebration. They’ll plan the agenda for a department retreat. They almost always host the holiday dinners. You might not always like their style, but the alternative is doing all the work that an event planner volunteers to take on and actually enjoys. That’s a lot of work.
I’m eternally grateful to the event planners in my life. Everything’s a little bit nicer with the occasional bit of celebration and recognition–even for devoted introverts like me.
The Zen Master
You know you’ve met a zen master when the word unflappable comes to mind. When things get rough–and they do eventually, for each of us–we need someone to remind us that the universe is a very big place and human beings have been around for a very long time. The tiny concerns of most people don’t even make an imprint on the sands of eternity. Whatever it is that seems so important to you right now will likely be forgotten in a month. Maybe in a week.
The zen master will remind you of this. Then they’ll remind you to take a deep breath and let go of whatever anxiety has you by the throat, since holding on to it does no one any good.
She might not actually be related to you by blood or law, but it seems like you’ve known her your whole life. She’s seen you at your sparkling best and your very, very worst. Nothing you do surprises her anymore. She trusts that you know what you’re doing, because she’s seen you make left turns that took you just where you wanted to go–and she trusts that you’ll bounce back from disaster, if your life veers off course. All the history you two share frees her up to be your non-judgemental support team. The sister just wants you to be happy.
You might not see each other often, but that really doesn’t matter. Sisters are in it for the long haul. They show up without being asked, because family is forever.