Category Archives: Relationships

Time To Review Your Support Network


Year-End Wrap-Up

Like many managers, I spent much of December wrapping up projects and getting organized for the new year. I reviewed everyone’s performance. I checked project deadlines. I made sure that every available dollar in the budget was well invested before it disappeared. I updated files. I uncluttered my in box. Until I became a coach, though, I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time reviewing my personal lists. Since then, I recommend that my clients complete the same personal year-end wrap-up that I do myself.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

The year-end review actually consists of not one, but three lists. The first isaccomplishments. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what you’ve been able to accomplish in the course of a year. Often, we more easily remember the lows than the highs. The second is goals. What do you hope to accomplish during the next year? I’ll save these two lists for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the list that I find my clients most often overlook: your support network.

Over time, relationships within and outside of the workplace change. People move on, new people come into our lives, roles change, relationships become something else. Yet, often someone will create a support network list (chart, really) and never look at it again. Twice every year there are public service messages everywhere reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries to be sure they will be at the ready when we need them. Think of this as checking the batteries on your emotional support system so it will be fully functional at all times.

Your Support Network

If you’ve never created a support network this is how it works. The support network consists of four quadrants, each containing a list of names. Each quadrant serves a specific function so that you can identify supporters in each significant area. As far as possible, each name should appear in only one quadrant; never more than two.

The Quadrants

Cheerleader: These people  support you unconditionally. No matter how small the achievement, they are applauding. They’ll cheer when you finish a project or get a promotion. They’ll also cheer when you get your shoes on the right foot. They never criticize; they never make suggestions. That’s someone else’s role.

Comforter: These people are there for you when you’re feeling down. They show up with tissues, chocolate, weepy movies, wine – whatever you need. They will listen to the same story for hours, never saying anything more than there, there or appropriate sympathetic comments. They agree with everything you say. If you say that your boss is terrible, they tell you they’ve always felt that way. If, five minutes later, you say this is the best boss you ever had, they agree. They wrap you up in literal or figurative quilts until the crisis passes.

Confronters: These are the people who keep you accountable. If you tell them that you want to do something, they’ll keep reminding you, gently or firmly, of what you need to do. They may also help you create a plan or break a task down into manageable chunks. Then they’ll keep after you until the task is done.

Critics: It took me a while to recognize the value of these people in my support network. These are the people who stop you from making avoidable mistakes public. Think of them as copy editors for your life – and they’ll edit your writing as well. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear what these people have to say. And I can’t count how many times they’ve saved me from disaster.

The Audit

December, as part of your year-end wrap-up is a great time to review your support network lists. Have you overused certain individuals? Maybe you want to move them to back-up status. Have some of the people on the list become unavailable? Proved to be unreliable? Replace them! Are there new people in your life who belong on your lists? Add them. Make a second quadrant. What roles do you fulfill for other people? Be sure that you know how you’re giving back or paying it forward. Add and subtract to this list as well. And renew your commitment to the new lists.


We all need support and we all need to support others. Performing this audit twice a year renews you and renews your relationships. Try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be as glad as I was once you do.

Where’s the Exit?

In response to my last post, Weeding the Friendship Garden, Caroline Ceniza-Levine, asked how to get out of relationships that were past their expiration date. This is always a difficult question, and I’m not sure I have the perfect answer. Here are a few ideas:

1. Avoid initiating contact. Sometimes, that’s enough. Even though you may think the other person wants to continue the relationship in the same way, they may simply be stuck in a pattern and be glad for the break.

2. See this person only as part of a group. This reduction of one-on-one time cam begin to create some space.

3. Introduce this person to someone else you think would be a good match. It’s a little like recycling an old boyfriend who was great, just not great for you. Can you suggest a mutually beneficial match?

4. Be busy. Be less accessible. Screen calls and answer when you want to speak to this person or when you have tie to listen to them. Even then, set limits. Be brief.

5. Be honest. Tell this person that you feel your lives have gone in such different directions that it’s hard to be there for each other. Tell the other person what you’ve valued most about them and how you will carry that into the future. Spend time reconfiguring the relationship. Just because someone isn’t in your inner circle, it doesn’t mean they have to be out of your life.

I should also point out that just because someone isn’t on your C chart (Comforters, Cheerleaders, Critics, Confronters) doesn’t mean they aren’t in your life. The chart is to help you define your go-to support network, not your entire social circle.

Weeding the Friendship Garden

How often do you stop to assess your relationships? Think about what you want out of them? Think about what you’re giving? Think about how – or if – you’re asking for what you want and need?

I use a four-square model to capture relationships. The categories are comforters, cheerleaders, critics and confronters. I try to have at least two people in each category and no one in more than one role. That’s not to say that these roles define my friendships, merely that these are my go-to people in certain circumstances. Cheerleaders provide unconditional support. Comforters are judgement-free shoulders to cry on. Critics are logical and able to help you develop plans. Confronters are ready to give you a swift kick when you aren’t living up to what you said you would do.

I try to check my relationships at least twice a year. It’s not about keeping score, more about being sure that my friends and I are getting what we need from each other. Like any garden, sometimes my friendship garden needs a bit of weeding.

Some relationships have withered due to inattention. Do I want to revive them or is it time to let them go? Some have become one-sided. Do I need to give more to this person or do I need to ask for what I need? Am I willing to have the frank, difficult conversation that might lead to change? Am I willing to accept that the relationship will never change and perhaps should go?

It’s always sad to lose a friendship. But, then, perhaps there was really nothing there anyhow. Perhaps the effort is – for one or both of us- more than we can handle right now. The core question becomes whether the cost of letting go is greater than the cost of hanging on.

Weeding is good. It leaves space for solid relationships to flourish. It leaves room for something new.

How is your garden growing?

Family Ties and Celebrations

I’ve just returned from a weekend in the Boston area that was filled with family. We had gathered for Jessica’s Bat Mitzvah – family from up and down the east coast and a contingent from Israel.

There were many wonderful moments of connecting, reconnecting and deepening connections. There were a series of joyous moments watching the Bat Mitzvah girl blossom into womanhood before our eyes as she described her charity project, explained the halftorah and shared the significant moments of her life and the lessons she will carry forward.

There was the fun of watching the two expectant mothers – sisters-in-law, love and spirit – sharing the moment, rejoicing over each others gifts and planning for the arrival of a boy and a girl who are scheduled to appear within a week of each other.

There was my own joy in deepening bonds with my cousins and discovering new members of the expanded family.

My favorite moment, though, was listening to my aunt reflect at the end of the weekend. As she sat in the first row of the temple, she looked around her at her children, grandchildren and extended family and realized that she had created all this. The mother of four, grandmother of five with six and seven on the way, in this moment she, for the first time, experienced herself as the matriarch of our family. She’s now the most senior member and has come into full realization of her accomplishments and pride in her extended family. She’s excited about being a part of the future of her grandchildren. Her glow matched the mothers-to-be.

So, even as I celebrated my cousins over the weekend, today I celebrate my aunt. I remember how all my girlfriends wanted to grow up to be just like her. I am awed by how she managed four children as a single parent. I am amazed at how she maintained an active career until just a few months ago.

And I celebrate my family and our collective and individual futures.

Top Chef, Project Runway, What Not To Wear and Real Life

Guilty as charged! I watch reality shows. It’s a guilty pleasure for many people, and I think that, really, there’s noting to feel guilty about, unless you’re using these shows to avoid a real life of your own.

So, what’s the up side of these shows? Top Chef , even through all the editing and drama, shows creativity and resilience and sometimes even some interesting food. All of the contestants were certainly accomplished chefs or they wouldn’t have made the cut. The show itself doesn’t necessarily test cooking skills. Instead, it tests creativity, flexibility, sometimes teamwork, and the ability to perform under pressure. I can’t say that Project Runway has made me want to buy anything from these designers, but, again, it’s fascinating to see what can be done in a tight time frame – and with some pretty unlikely materials, on occasion.

Will a new wardrobe change your life? Despite the impression that What Not to Wear gives sometimes, the answer remains no.  It’s the off-camera conversations that we sometimes see a glimpse of that are interesting about this show. It’s not really about wardrobe, although there are plenty of good ideas about what is and is not flattering for the less-than-perfectly-shaped, it’s about self-care and self-esteem.

Mindless escapism? Yes, certainly. And a few good life lessons as well.

Movie and a Coach

Have you ever gone to a movie and left wanting to discuss it – not in terms of the acting or directing, but in terms of your own life? As a coach, I’m always seeing coachable moments on screen. I want to suggest alternatives to the characters. I want to have them consider other outcomes.

OK – maybe this is a coach thing, but I don’t think so. How many movies have influenced your life? How often have you quoted a character?

So, I’ve created a new concept – Movie and a Coach. It will debut on August 4 at 5:45. We’re starting with Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. A small group of people can sign up for an evening that includes watching a movie and sitting down over coffee (or whatever) afterwards for a 90 minute coaching conversation. It will be a great way to meet a few new people and to experience coaching. Participants can even coach the characters in the movie!

If you’re in New York City, here’s the link: Movie and a Coach. Ticket and beverage included.

Babies and Kittens and Love

This was a pretty exciting week. My adorable Godson was christened yesterday, surrounded by loving family and friends. He took this all very calmly. Actually, he slept through the entire event, unphased by even the cold water.

As was his due, he spent the remainder of the afternoon being admired. He was perfectly calm as he was passed around his party. He is (if I say so myself) adorable and a perfect gentleman. And amazingly tranquil. He takes it all in through those big baby eyes, but he keeps his opinion to himself. He doesn’t cause a minute’s trouble to anyone and quietly makes his needs known as they arise. He’s just a sweetheart.

It’s easy to love someone adorable and undemanding.

It’s not so easy to love the adorable and demanding.

My brother and sister-in-law recently decided to do something about a family of feral cats that  pass through their yard on a regular basis. They got the traps from a local rescue group and were prepared to take Mom and her brood to be altered before being returned to the wild. As most feral cats don’t transition well to family life, this is the recommended plan.

It just doesn’t always work out quite that way. Mama and a truly adorable calico kitten were captured successfully. But my brother didn’t like the pint-sized cage the kitten was in. So he proceeded to build more deluxe accommodations out of spare lumber and chicken wire  and was able to transfer kitty. Apparently, though, his carpentry skills are less than perfect, because kitty escaped.

My sister-in-law arrived as the pursuit of kitty began. She’s a determined and resourceful woman and after a few tries pinned kitty down and was about to lift her up when, equally resourceful, kitty clawed her way free. Well, did I mention that Jen is determined and resourceful? For attempt number two, she’s going to grab kitty by the nape of the neck and have my brother at the ready with a cat carrier (more secure than the cage).

Round 2 – it’s a draw. Jen grabs kitty, kitty turns whirlwind and gets two good thumb bites in but ends up in the carrier. Jen washes off the blood and goes off to the gym.

By the end of the evening, after a trip to a local doc-in-the-box and a massive shot of antibiotics, animal control enters the picture. “You have been bitten by a wild animal, ” they say. “You must keep the wild beast for ten days to see if it dies.” (They also say that if kitty is going to die this should happen in five days. Presumably, if this happens, treatment for rabies will be necessary.)

So kitty is going to reside in the climate-controlled garage for ten days. She can’t go in the house, because Ginger and Kato can’t be exposed to possible strange kitty diseases.

A few days later, I see a picture of Catie on Facebook. I call and find out that she not only has a name, but has a split-level cage, complete with hanging toys, free-range toys, food, water and litter. My brother is spending his spare time sitting with her and talking to her. By the end of the week, she’s allowing him to pet her and he’s got her purring.

I predict that my brother was wrong when he told me that two was the perfect number of cats.

It’s easy to love a new baby – especially one who is cute and cuddly and easy-going. And when you can hand him back to Mama if he’s in any way inconvenient. It’s not so easy to love a wild thing that doesn’t necessarily want your love.

I certainly am not suggesting that loving and nurturing a feral cat is better than loving and nurturing a sweet baby, but there’s something to be learned here. I’ll bet that Sweet Godson will have his bad days along the way. And we’ll love him through them. We’ll sit with him through temper storms and illnesses and all the good and not-so-good parts of normal development. Just like my brother sits with Catie and coaxes her into civilization. We remember to do this with litttle ones.

Who else needs a little unconditional love? Do you have friends and relatives who are very busy pushing you away? Maybe it’s time to hug them a bit or just sit next to them and coax them into civilization. We’ll all be better for it.

Are You Lonely Tonight?

Single women in New York City are always busy. And they almost always seem to be in pairs. The younger ones are dating or meeting their friends for drink mostly unless they’re off to the gym or to run or bike or skate in Central Park. The older ones are meeting friends for dinner or movies or theater or are at a museum. They all shop, but that can be a solitary pursuit.

So, all this business gives the impression that New York women are both self-sufficient and socially fulfilled. Is this really true? If you eavesdrop a bit (a socially acceptable and extraordinarily satisfying perk of solo dining) you may hear a different story.


Two young women, overheard in a tony Pan-Asian place, were taking about the lack of friendships in their lives. Both were young enough to still be going back to the family home many weekends. They did this to spend time with their folks and just chill out a bit. Their high school friends? No longer interesting. Nothing in common any more. College friends? Seen only at yet another wedding. Both women concluded that if it weren’t for a very few close friends (who they never saw often enough) and work friends, they would have no one. Both women found this upsetting; neither had a good solution. Life, they felt, was just too busy to cultivate friends.

Fast forward about forty years to two other friends splitting an entree after a museum afternoon. They too were talking about a lack of friends. So many of their friends were homebound, caring for ailing spouses or parents. Some had moved away to warmer environments. Some were just too tired after work to go out again. Some were too financially strapped to manage as many nights out as they used to.

Is this a New York thing? Does it vary by neighborhood? Or is this what we’ve become? Articles abound on the aging of FaceBook. Tweeting has become the new conversation for many. Will our friendships become increasingly virtual?

There’s a sense of community on the express bus I often take into Manhattan. Some of the ladies are not only actively in conversation on their own bus, but on their phones to buddies on other buses. Some, early on the route, provide wake-up calls for others further down the run. These women dine together, go off to Atlantic City every so often, and share each other’s triumphs and sorrows.

The Transition Network started Peer Groups so that women over fifty could come together with their peers for monthly conversations about life transitions. These monthly meetings have become the lifeblood of the organization.

Maybe it’s time for us all to pay a little more attention to building community. Can we start speaking to our neighbors again? Volunteer someplace? Build new kinds of community? Don’t be lonely tonight!