Modern folklore will have us believe that there are a lot of things we “should” be able to do on our own like start a business, heal from a complex illness, or get into the grad school of our dreams. But that’s about as real as a jackalope riding a unicorn.
In reality, no one, ever, in the history of the world, has achieved great things entirely on their own.
We all need support to achieve the things that are most important to us. And to be successful, we need to be willing to ask for that support. My favorite way to ensure success in any endeavor is to intentionally build a Support Dream Team. In the social entrepreneurship world, this is often called building your own board of directors. Same idea but if you want more than just advice like if you really just want someone to bring you soup once a week, that title might not make sense. Hence, Support Dream Team.
How to build your own support dream team:
1. Get clear on what kind of support you want and make a list. I advise everyone to write a vision statement for the life they’d love because once the vision is clear, you can look at it and ask yourself, “who do I need on my team to help me make this vision real?” If you don't have a written vision yet, read this, and write a short outline or paragraph of what you're trying to do. Then list out all the tasks/projects you are going to want support with. If you’re writing a book this might look like, “copy editor, graphic designer, writing coach, an accountability buddy, chief cheerleader,” etc.
2. Begin filling in the team roster, i.e. Copy Editor: my friend Kaz, Chief Cheerleader: Barry.
3. Note any holes in the roster and brainstorm how you might find those people. If you don’t already know a graphic designer who can help you make a book cover and you’re not interested in doing it yourself, who could you ask for recommendations? Are you willing to post on social media and ask for recommendations?
4. Start asking! Start with the easy asks – the people who are likely to say yes. This will help build your confidence and allow you to practice explaining your vision before you try to enroll people you don’t know into supporting you. If asking for help feels really hard, get some support to ask for support. Ask a friend who’s good at lovingly kicking your ass, or hire a coach like me. :) One of the single most valuable things I got out of coaching was overcoming my fear of asking for support.
If you’re asking friends and/or family for support, sometimes it can feel nice to make a declaration to the group as a whole, then follow up with people individually. This might look like an e-mail titled, “Be on my Dream Team?” If there’s anything you need to communicate to a wide audience like “I’m not going to be able to hang out as much because I’m focused on building this business” you can do that at the same time. Members of the Spoonie Superstars Facebook group can check out a beautiful example here of an email someone wrote to all her girlfriends asking them to come hang out with her so she wouldn’t feel so isolated while she’s healing from Lyme disease.
Notes on Networking
When you reach out to people you don’t know, or don’t know well, about being on your support team, try to be really clear with them about what you’re asking for. There’s this common assumption that you need to have tea or a meeting with someone to build a relationship. While that might seem like the polite thing to do, it could actually work against you if someone is really busy. So, before you email someone, or call them, or reach out to them on LinkedIn, get super clear yourself on what you’re asking for, whether it’s a recommendation for a person or organization, articles, resources, or some other aspect of their expertise. Definitely, do your research on the person before you reach out and demonstrate that you’ve done so, i.e. “I really appreciated your blog post on baby goat yoga.” This shows respect for their work and their time.
Assume that people want to support you and share your expertise with you. Wouldn’t you?
Follow up at least twice. Do you respond to every single email and message you get on all your social media platforms always, after the first message? If so, you get a sticker. Most of us don’t. If someone doesn’t respond to you, it doesn’t mean they were offended by your message or don’t like you. It could mean that, but it could also mean that your message is drowning in their crowded inbox, or that they’re on vacation, or just had a baby. Definitely, follow up.
My First Dream Team
I built a small but mighty Support Dream Team when I went back to working and living on my own after eight months of living with my parents, resting like a boss. I’d been getting a ton of support from my parents – cooking, paying for food, etc. – and I was going to move in with my partner back in Boston, who also had a chronic illness. I wrote my five closest friends in Boston, explained that I was excited to be back, wanted to see them, but was still sick and in need of support. Would they help in the following X, Y, and Z ways?
One of those friends still cooks me dinner at least once a month because she knows I love it and it brings her joy. Another friend took me out to dinner a bunch at places where I could actually eat. She picked up the tab and it gave us a chance to go out when I didn’t have the cash to. A couple other friends helped me move three different times in the following eighteen months. It was the f-ing best, let me tell you and my friends have told me that they’re grateful that I was real with them and asked for help. Previously they’d wanted to help but didn’t know how. They were so happy to have concrete ways to help me get better. Contrary to all my biggest worries, I’m still friends with all of them and now that I’m feeling better, I have more and more energy to support them, something I worried I wouldn’t be able to do.
While we like to get super guilty and weird about asking for help, when we ask for support, we are actually being a contribution to the people we are asking.