Aside from family, friends and mentors might be the people who most influence our ability to make a life that matters.
Friends and mentors, and their impact on a meaningfully productive life
Recently I’ve been thinking about the women who’ve been my friends and mentors over the years, and how they’ve helped shape my view of what it means to make a life that matters.
In the last few weeks, we’ve talked about ways to get the things done that we need to do. But productivity is more than getting stuff done. Meaningful productivity is about making a life that matters. For me, a life that matters centers on people that matter. During a time when we’re required to be isolated, finding that friendship is even more important.
As I’ve been spending time alone these past weeks, I’ve been thinking about the importance of relationships, especially the women who’ve influenced me over the years. Some have been close friends, some have been work colleagues, and others I’ve known only from a distance, but all have mentored me in one way or another, helping shape my worldview and influencing the person I’ve become.
What is Friendship?
According to the dictionary, a friend is a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.
“A friend is someone who understands you, and if they don’t, they try to.”
from What Is a Friend, Anyway?
“A friend is someone you love and who loves you, someone you respect and who respects you, someone whom you trust and who trusts you. A friend is honest and makes you want to be honest, too. A friend is loyal.”
from the Urban Dictionary
Dr. Kristen Fuller, writing in Psychology Today, has said
“The psychology behind strong female friendships is strong. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, women with early-stage breast cancer were four times more likely to die from cancer if they didn’t have very many friends. Those with a larger group of friends with early-stage breast cancer had a much better survival rate.”
What is Mentorship?
The dictionary definition of a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor.
“A mentor is a person or friend who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors.”
Affection is not required, but trust is. You can’t be friends with someone you don’t know personally, but you can be mentored by someone you’ve never met, through her writings, her speaking, even just the example you see as she lives her life in a public way.
Finding friends and mentors
For me, it’s been important to have a variety of types of women as my friends and mentors.
- Those who are younger than me often bring a level of optimism that counters the cynicism that can come with age and difficult experiences. They remind me to be optimistic and positive, and they also bring a level of energy that I need.
- Those who are older bring a broader experience and the wider perspective that comes with it.
- Friends who come from different backgrounds and have different viewpoints remind me to listen carefully and think deeply and force me to question my own ideas and defend my beliefs in a non-threatening way. They teach me to be open-minded and to love without conditioning my love on the other person’s compliance with my way of thinking.
Friends and mentors who have shaped me become the person I am today
- My mother – She’s the strongest person I know. She’s lived through some incredibly difficult times, growing up in an alcoholic home, eloping when she was 17 years old with a man who turned out to be an alcoholic himself, raising six kids, 3 of whom were born with a congenital defect that required many hospital stays and surgeries, and so much more. Through it all she has maintained her sense of humor, teaching me to laugh at life’s absurdities, and how important it is for mom to stay calm in the midst of a crisis when her children are looking to her for cues.
- Vicki – I met her when I was a high school sophomore and she was a young newlywed. I was looking for a voice teacher. My choir teacher (her husband) sent me to her. She taught me how to sing, and we became friends. She was my example of how to be a young wife and a young mom.
- Cathy – A friend of my age, we’ve known each other since we were in our mid-20s. We’ve played music together, worked on projects together, and shared so many memories together. She is one of those friends that, though we can go months without speaking to each other, when we do get together it’s as though no time has passed and we pick up right where we left off. From her I’ve learned about that kind of friendship – what it means to know there’s someone out there in the world who, if you needed her, she would be there without question. For over 30 years she’s modeled for me the kind of friend I want to be for others.
- Donna McClellan, my mother-in-law – She was an example of dedication to family. She had her own interests, to be sure, but she was devoted to her husband and children, spending hours driving her talented son to music lessons and music festivals and supporting him in his musical endeavors. Seeing what a good man her son turned out to be gave her credibility in my eyes as I saw the outcome of supportive, loving mothering.
- Jill – A woman I met through church whose kids were a few years older than mine. Mike and I had decided to home-school our kids, and Jill opened her heart and her home to me as she answered my questions and set an example of how a mom could home-school her kids while still pursuing her own interests.
- Martha – A partner at my first law firm who taught me so much about being a lawyer – how to serve clients well, how to be effective and efficient in doing so, and so much more.
- Susan May Warren – a best-selling, award-winning author that I met at a writer’s conference. I’ve attended her writing seminars and retreats and sat with her while she helped me develop the stories I was writing. From her I learned how to write better, but also saw in her example the importance of giving of your time, knowledge, and caring to others.
- Brooke Castillo – There are women who’ve mentored me even though I’ve never met them. Brooke Castillo is one of them. Through her podcast and her written materials she’s taught me so much about the impact of my own thinking on how I experience my life. She is the first person I ever heard explain how my own thinking is what determines the outcomes in my life!
There have been so many others over a lifetime: women who taught me how to sew, how to mother, how to write, how to make a home, how to maintain my faith through tough times. They’ve laughed with me, cried with me, told me the truth about myself when I didn’t want to hear it.
What relevance does it have to productivity now or at any time?
Why talk about this now, at a time when we’re all hunkered down in our own homes, isolated, as a virus seems to be rampaging around the world?
For me, it goes to the truth of the phrase from John Donne’s Meditation written in 1624: “No man is an island”. We are all part of a larger whole, and the person we are today is affected by the voices we listen to and the people we spend time with.
I know that’s true for me. The women I’ve mentioned, and many others I haven’t, have helped shape my thinking, my worldview, even my personality, thus helping me on my journey to making a life that matters. I am a better person for knowing them, and thinking about that motivates me to pay more attention to being that kind of friend to others.
For that reason, even in this time of isolation, I’m feeling the urge to reconnect with old friends, maybe find some new ones, because we really do need each other if we’re going to make lives that truly matter.
What do you think?
Who are the friends and mentors who’ve made a difference in your life? Can you take a minute to reach out to one (or more) of them to thank them for their friendship? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
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