Last weekend I went to a gig in London where I met many of my old friends. In between the (admittedly loud) tones of the performing bands, we caught up with stories about the past, discussed the present and made plans for the future. Some of these discussions are likely to give birth to future musical projects and collaborations.
In our western individualist society, we tend to underestimate the importance of friendships and support networks. The myth of the ‘self-made entrepreneur’ dictates that the successful business owner reaches her goals purely by her own efforts, intelligence and hard hustle. A network of colleagues and friends which will help you get where you need to be, is only mentioned with reluctance. After all, doesn’t a reliance on external factors betray an inability to succeed by your own efforts, and therefore some kind of failure?
Even more toxic is the idea that in order to get where you want to be, you need to ‘fake it until you make it’. I have been visiting business networking events for years, and not a single time have I heard someone saying something along the lines of ‘business is not going well’ or ‘I am struggling at the moment’. The cult of the successful entrepreneur wants you to exude an aura of self-confidence at all times, and as a consequence you can’t be possibly caught off guard in a moment of weakness and vulnerability , as that would erode the façade of success.
However, throughout the centuries, no one has ever reached the summit of success without a supportive network of friends, colleagues and benefactors around them. Composers like J.S. Bach and Ludwig Van Beethoven thrived thanks to the commissions of wealthy nobility and royalty. More recently, Jeff Bezos started Amazon with a seed capital of $250000 by his parents, followed by many years of financial investment by stakeholders when the company was still making a loss.
Of equal importance to a supportive business network, is the role of friendships in your life. A 2021 study by Lu, Oh, Leahy and Chopik concluded that valuing friendships is generally associated with better health, well-being, and happiness. In many cases, placing a high value on friendship was particularly important for health and well-being in countries high in income inequality and individualism, which includes our British and North American societies.
Having a supportive network of friends and colleagues is not optional. It’s a must for both your professional success and your mental wellbeing. Take some time this week to re-connect with 2-3 friends of professionals you haven’t spoken to in a while. Even if you don’t immediately find yourself planning together exciting things for the future (which is certainly a possibility) at the very least you will take an action which increases your happiness and wellbeing.