Having just finished studying for and taking the MCAT, I know a thing or two about leaning on an unshakable support network. The MCAT is a five hour exam that tests your knowledge in four different sciences, plus critical reading and writing.  Simply put, it’s hell. I studied for it for three months, during which time I tapped every source of support that I could find.
Fortunately, my support system rose to the challenge that this gigantic obstacle raised for me.  They were there to support me intellectually, professionally, and, most importantly, emotionally.  Basically, they carried me, bruised and bleeding, over the finish line. I’m fairly certain they were just as relieved as I was when the process was over, and they definitely deserved a cocktail as much as I did.
Since we all face new challenges and obstacles in our lives, both planned and unexpected, it’s important to be conscious about putting together an effective support network in advance. The first step in building that network is to understand that not every person can fill every role you need. In thinking about a successful network capable of getting you through even the scariest of times, categorize folks into the ABCD’s of support.  Some will fit into multiple categories, and some will have a very specific niche, but the most important thing is to have at least one person in each.

  • Advisor- An advisor is usually someone a bit older and wiser than you whose opinion you trust and who gives excellent advice. You might have different advisers for different areas in your life. For example, my friend and former supervisor Laura is an incredible professional adviser. In fact, I even consulted her for this blog: “Remember that one training we did on that thing where someone mentioned something about support networks? Remember? What was that again?” Even when my questions elicit a, “Huh?” response, she always rises to the challenge and figures out a way to help.
  • Bouncer- No, I don’t mean make friends with the one at the bar.  A bouncer is someone you can bounce ideas off of.  Someone who can help you brainstorm. When you’re facing a problem, your bouncer is the person who doesn’t tell you what to do, but builds on the ideas you already have and helps you to think through them. My friend Rhett is an excellent bouncer, for more reasons than the fact that he’s 6’5”. Every time I have a new idea, I know that talking it over with him will flesh it out and make it bigger and badder than ever before.
  • CriticThis is someone who gives you tough love when you need it.  Someone who knows you extremely well and isn’t afraid to call you on your BS. One of my best critics is my friend Margo, who I’ve known since I was 11.  She gives it to me straight- celebrating my successes and good decisions, and letting me know when I’m being a giant idiot. This can often be the most important role, but it’s also the hardest to fill.  If you have found a good critic, you’re really lucky and should hang on to that person for dear life.
  • Dreamer- Your dreamer is someone who sees your potential and dreams big on your behalf.  They celebrate you and believe you can do anything you set your mind to. One of my dreamers, my roommate Lara, always has new plans for me that I never would have thought of myself.  Sometimes they are so outside of my capabilities, it gives me a good chuckle.  Like the time she told me we were going to do a half-Ironman triathlon.  Right…  But she never fails to make me feel capable and valuable.

Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed. Actually, take it a step further and surround yourself with people who view your success as their own success. Life will always give you challenges, but if you have the right support network, you’ll be able to get through anything. Take it from me, I took the MCAT and lived to tell the tale.