I had the opportunity to read the advanced copy of Jenna Kutcher’s first book, How Are You, Really?, and it’s great. The stories she shares from her own life to illustrate what she’s teaching are instantly relatable and entertaining, and I would highly recommend the whole book. Rather than review the whole thing (you’ll have to read it yourself!), I wanted to discuss one of the three themes in the book that I’m passionate about: the importance of building a support network or system to help you grow and achieve your dreams.
The chapter Tacos and Truth: How to Create Your Authentic Community really stuck with me, because while Jenna’s life experience is different from mine, she had really great insights that could apply to me or anyone else. I think that it can be hard to nurture friendships and find an authentic community for a number of reasons that we all share; life changes and stages, that whole pandemic thing, and the shifting landscape to a more virtual world.
I’ve seen my friendships change and even slip away for a while when we decided to have children, which is something people on both sides can experience. I also experienced gaining a lot of friends through my children’s lives, too, which was a great help as I navigated cloth diapers, toddler tantrums, and the teenage years. Having a shared connection with others as you navigate life’s challenges is so important, and it doesn’t start or end with kids.
If you went to college or university, I’m sure you found others in your discipline to lean on as you navigated the school and your program. I know people who spent years traveling the world, and many of them found life-long friends along the way. As you go through the different stages of life, like marriage, divorce, illnesses, and career changes, it can be confusing to figure out how to keep friendships going.
An important part of creating and maintaining friendships that I’ve realized and that Jenna talks about in her book, is that you need to really be yourself. Yes, you are going to change. And as you do, some people will stay while others will become part of happy memories of your life. And that’s okay! But if you want to keep certain friendships alive, you need to put in the work.
In one of the coaching sessions that I do with clients, we explore the similar idea of how to find and cultivate growth-friends in relation to the human drive for connection. Family and intimate relationships are the primary sources of our feelings of connection and love, but the second source is through friends. So how do we keep those friendships going as we go through life changes in our busy lives?
Jenna herself asks, “How do we keep friendships alive? What does community look like as we age and evolve and let our identities transform? How can we feasibly foster the types of relationships we can bring our full selves to when we're so damn busy all the time?”
With how vital friendships are to our overall mental health and happiness, it’s worthwhile to focus some energy on developing greater friendships in your life and strengthening them. I've spent a lot of time pondering the topic of connection and friendships the last couple of years, and I don't think I'm the only one forced to reconsider what and who were important to me during the pandemic.
I think technology has changed how we connect meaningfully to each other, but I’ve seen how it can bring us together, as well. During the pandemic, I know we relied on Zooms and Facetimes and the like to still interact with each other. I bought my mom a smartphone a few months into the pandemic because she was feeling isolated. My own relationship with groups of networking friends certainly deepened via our Zoom sessions, and even now I continue to online co-work with one group.
But how do we connect in “real life”? Jenna reminds us that “maintaining rich and vibrant relationships takes work, commitment, and shared expectations.” This mean we need to show up in those small moments so we can learn to show up in the big ones. “It’s a friend asking how are you? Really?”
Jenna made me think about how often I ask that of my own friends, and how often I’m asked. Answering this for yourself with an honest answer will take vulnerability, but I still encourage you to ask it. Getting vulnerable with yourself and others is the only way people can really get to know you, and it's the only way that you can get to know other people.
I heard a clip of an interview with Jenna the other day about her book, and she believes that most of us do want to hear that truth. More than that, we want our friends to ask for our help; we want to be needed.
My favorite quote from the book is about the messiness of real relationships:
“Sure we'll mess up at times. We'll have conflicts and misunderstandings and miscommunications. We'll have to apologize even more than we ever thought we could, simply because we know when we need to. We'll fail to show up where and when we're needed most. So will our friends! A trusted circle of relationships is filled with varying challenges, push back, emotions, and distractions, and a willingness to talk about them, even the uglier parts. That's the beauty of it.”
This paragraph moved me and resonated with me deeply. As I'm growing older, I’m finding that there are so many more apologies in my relationships, whether it's with my husband, kids, or friends. I don't know if it's because I'm making more missteps or that I value my friendships and relationships so much more, or that I’m simply more aware of when I mess up and I want to make it right. I'm hoping it's the last two.
I liked Jenna Kutcher’s book How Are You, Really?, and recommend you ask both yourself and your friends how they’re really doing. In the meantime, think about your closest friends. Who are they? How often do you see them? And how well do you really know each other? It’s worth thinking about and acting on if you don’t like the answers.
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