After college, I moved across the country to pursue an entirely different career than my English teaching mother, but my childhood best friend, Laura, moved ten minutes away from her and taught English in the same school. To top if off, she ended up having twins, just like my mom. I teased my mom that Laura was the daughter she wished she had, but, truthfully, I was comfortable with them having a relationship that didn’t revolve around me – until they went to see a Broadway show together with their co-worker, my aunt, and a good family friend.
I allowed a pang of jealously to creep in for a moment as I sat across the country imagining the most important women in my life forging inside jokes without me. That feeling subsided quickly, though. These ladies had become part of an important advisory committee to my best friend, and I wanted that for her.
It might be trendy for women to talk about their “mom tribes” and “girl squads” – our closest group of friends who “get” what we’re going through and with whom we share the raw stories of our lives – but we should give more respect to the advisory committees that surround us, too. They fill a different, but no less important, niche in our lives.
You might already have a group of advisers like this in your life, and if you do, this article should serve as a good reminder of how valuable they are. If you don’t, read on for tips to build one for yourself and for your kids.
Advisory Committee Defined
Advisory committees are made up of people who may not always fit the definition of a friend, but who we turn to for advice, guidance and support. They often form and disband over specific issues and benefit from diverse experiences, perspectives, and ages. It’s just a fancy name for a natural concept – a network of people you trust and would ask for help. These are members of your “village,” your Rolodex of subject-specific mentors.
My best friend’s relationship with my mom is a good example of this. Their work relationship and my mom’s historic role to her as a mother figure meant that Laura felt comfortable sharing certain types of things with my mom. She asked for advice about teaching. She shared stories about her family, and she looked for guidance as a new mom.
However, the detail she disclosed and the way she talked about all of this was different than if she and I were curled up on her couch, sipping wine. It’s these boundaries of intimacy for advisory councils that make them the perfect compliment to one’s closest group of friends.
Benefits of an Advisory Committee
They make us happier
Harvard’s 75-year study on happiness found that having good relationships and a strong sense of community is one of the strongest predictors of happiness. We shouldn’t underestimate our personal advisory committees’ contribution to this finding. They help us feel like we belong, contribute to our identity, and make us feel supported.
They can be one-sided
Friendships make us feel supported, too, of course, but they’re two-way relationships, where advisory committees don’t have to be. The implied one-sided dynamic of advisory committees allows conversations to center around a single person with a focused purpose to help them work through a particular dilemma. I’m sure my mom shared stories and examples with Laura, but she did so to illustrate her point, not to solicit advice of her own. She willingly and happily let Laura take the floor, which let Laura confide in her without an obligation to reciprocate an equal level of time and support.
They offer objective advice
Advisory committees also have the benefit of greater objectivity. Make no doubt, the Harvard study tells us that good friendships are crucial to our overall well being, but a friend’s duty to support us sometimes clouds their ability to tell us what we really need to hear. They might be too close to the situation themselves, or they’re hesitant to tell us what they really think. Even our most honest of friends occasionally bite their tongues to let us freely vent about what’s bothering us.
Other times, our friends don’t have the expertise to counsel us through a particular rough spot, like an issue at work, a medical diagnosis or a death in the family. When we call on members of our advisory committees, though, their purpose is clear. Listen to us. Guide us. Tell us the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear. Intentionally or not, we typically reach out to these mentors only when we’re ready to hear what they have to say.
Discover and Foster Your Advisory Committees
As social media and virtual work groups replace face-to-face interactions, our in-person networks are shrinking, but that doesn’t mean our access to personal advisory committees has to suffer. It just means that we need to make a greater effort to forge personal connections in an era where it’s easier to pretend to be engrossed in our Facebook newsfeed than to make small talk with the person next to us.
Think about all the connections you still have: work colleagues, members of your religious organization, family members, parents of your kids’ friends, people who share your hobbies, local business owners who you interact with frequently, neighbors, or acquaintances with whom you do charity work.
We still have opportunities to make more personal connections in our lives, if we’re willing to make the effort. This is not to say we’re obligated to befriend everyone we meet or that we even have to like every person, but if we come across someone whose company we enjoy, who we admire or would like to know more about, we’ve got to get comfortable making the first move. Just ask them a question on the subject you’re interested in discussing. “When your children were my kids’ ages how many hours of homework did they have each night?” It gets easier with practice, and it’s worth the effort.
Be willing to share
For a lot of us, this is also hard to do. We either don’t want to feel vulnerable by asking someone for advice, or we don’t want to impose by asking for a favor. We have to stop thinking this way. We’re developing relationships to enrich our village, which the Harvard study confirmed has positive effects on our well being. When we reach out to people, we’re saying that we respect them, we appreciate their expertise, and we value their opinion. They’ll take your request of their time as a compliment.
Pay it forward
I talked about advisory committee relationships being one-sided, but that doesn’t mean we’ll never be in a position to help someone else. Good old fashioned manners still apply. We should express appreciation, offer assistance of our own, and make an effort to keep in touch. We may not invite all of the people on our advisory committees to our next birthday party, but they probably should be on our holiday card list.
Helping Your Kids Identify Their Advisory Committees
Walk the walk
We model behavior for our kids all the time, so it stands to reason that they pick up on our networking skills, too. They see how we make small talk with strangers. They listen to our stories at dinner about who we spoke to that day, and they sense what type of village we have around us.
Encourage awareness of their connections
As kids bring up problems, pose questions back to them that get them thinking about the people in their lives who can help. “Hmm, I wonder if your coach would know something about that.”
Make it okay to seek out advice from others
Of course we want to know everything that’s happening in our kids’ lives, but sometimes we’re not the best person to help. Just as our own friends are invaluable, but not necessarily objective or knowledgable in every situation, we have to admit that we may not have the expertise our kids need for a particular problem.
I’m reminded of advice I saw in an article that suggested parents leave the coaching to the coaches. We don’t need to have all of the answers for our kids, so if we support them in surrounding themselves with people they can trust, we can take a step back and let them find their way.
The Value of Social Media
There’s no denying the importance of face-to-face interaction. Numerous studies have concluded that virtual connections can’t replicate the benefits of face-to-face relationships, but that doesn’t mean social media has no place in our advisory committees. Sites that connect us to people we may know are a helpful starting point to fostering relationships.
While a lot of the research on Facebook usage has focused on the negative psychological effects people experience by using the site, it’s not representative of how all of us interact with it. Those studies found that people felt worse about themselves and lonelier when they spent time on Facebook comparing their lives to the carefully curated photos and status updates of their friends and engaging in superficial communication.
However, many people have found their virtual villages within private Facebook groups, where they ask questions, share frustrations, make recommendations and get useful information from people with similar interests. Mom groups on Facebook are notorious for being judge-y and unhelpful, but plenty of other women will tell you that groups like this have been invaluable to feeling less alone, more supported, and more informed. Just like in real life, being selective in online forums about who you associate with is the difference between cultivating a strong support network or not.
The concept of advisory committees isn’t new, but in our increasingly digital age, it’s worth it to remind ourselves of their value. When we reach out to acquaintances outside of our closest circle of friends, we benefit from hearing new perspectives and making stronger personal connections. People like to be helpful, so let them help you.