One of my favourite sayings is a beautiful African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child”. I have always loved hearing my Mum use it whenever a family member or friend has come to the rescue during one of the many crises we all go through during our childhood (i.e. Mum can’t take me to the party and my social life is over forever). I find it such an eloquent reflection of what a team effort it is to see a child into adulthood and how many different people play a role in the person we eventually become. Right from the very beginning of our lives, we are subject to the influence of all the different people who surround us.
Another of my favourite sayings is that “you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with”. So, if we all inevitably grow up in a “village”, we’d all of course want to make sure we’re in a really good one! Earlier in life, it’s harder to control this and obviously not all of us are blessed with a strong family unit, a supportive extended network and/or caring and attentive friends (as I am so grateful to have been). But as you develop, so does your autonomy and ability to make independent choices about your relationships. Over the past few years in particular, I have really evaluated where I invest my time, energy and love and I always keep this quote in mind to make sure I’m comfortable with the reflection of myself in the people I choose to share my life with.
Since starting a small business with my partner, Nic, about a year ago I have found that the relevance of these two quotes also translates into the business world. We affectionately refer to the business as “our baby” and it has certainly taken a village of wonderful supporters to get it off the ground. It is also true that any business becomes the product of the owners/partners/mentors/customers that surround it and we have kept this at the forefront of our minds when choosing partnerships, collaborations, and any other relationships relevant to our work. I have always been fascinated by the power of people to influence our ideas, growth and journey, both in a positive and negative sense, and have been even more intrigued at how this translates into business over the past year since we began. I thought I would put together some of my tips and observations particularly from the past year about the power of people.
- Be around them
I have always been a “people person” and I thrive on human interaction and relationships so I actively seek out people to be around. I find it quite easy to network and strike up a conversation with strangers, but I know this isn’t the same for everyone. Especially for entrepreneurs who run their own business, all perks aside, it can be quite isolating to be working alone all day without a team to bounce ideas off or even just take a break with. So even if you much prefer to keep to yourself and enjoy your own company (which is, by the way, a great skill), it’s important to get out and socialise even just as a sanity check to make sure you’re not getting too caught up in your own ideas.
Everyone has different strengths, experiences and perspectives which you are all the better for being exposed to even if you don’t share or agree with them. Some people have incredible talents and vision that you can admire, learn from and even replicate. I love surrounding myself with inspiring and encouraging people, because they have such a positive effect on my motivation, drive and creativity. You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn or how much fun you might have, so always nurture your relationships and spend time with others where you can.
- Mix it up
You don’t want to look around at your friends and see 5 clones of the same person. Again, there is so much diversity and vibrancy in the population so why would you limit yourself to one tiny pocket of the universe? That leads to recycled ideas, conversations, and life stories which is endlessly boring and also a real shame. Try to keep a range of friends or even just acquaintances from lots of different walks of life, industries, countries, cultures, age groups. It’s so good for us to have our ideas challenged and our comfort zones breached so that we can grow and develop. I love to meet people who have a skill or experience that I have zero exposure to, just so I can pick their brain about it and learn more about something new. Try not to live in a bubble and keep things interesting.
- Make it mutual
It can be very easy to take advantage of generous people OR to be too generous yourself without realising. Relationships need to be mutual (especially in business), which doesn’t mean that everything has to be tit for tat but which does mean that both parties have to be contributing something. Of course, like personal relationships, it’s all about swinging doors – sometimes one of you might be leaning more heavily on the other but that’s to be expected. As long as you stay mindful of avoiding one-sided relationships (whether it be you taking too much or giving too generously), it will all come out in the wash.
You can even take it further, as we love to do with our business, and collaborate with other like-minded people. Sharing truly is caring, and there’s enough room in this world for everyone, so why not work together? We have thoroughly enjoyed some of the most wonderful collaborative projects and can attribute so much of our growth and success to the power of joining forces. I continue to actively seek out collaborations because they are such a pleasure and can result not only in wonderful benefits for the business but also bring new delightful friends.
- Push through
Sometimes, some people just aren’t your piece of cake. Unfortunately, that’s an inevitable part of life. Fortunately, there are enough other people who ARE your piece of cake to hang out with. But since starting the business, I have come to accept that it’s actually important to push through with the non-cake people, because sometimes their relationships can bring more to you than the ones you adore. Not only does pushing through the frustration enrich your communication and people skills, sometimes the only person who suffers from you choosing not to deal with them is you! They might have something amazing to teach you, or something incredible to share with you, or simply just be the only place you can get what you’re after even if you have to put up with some idiocy to get there. You don’t have to love everyone for them to be important, so just keep calm and push through!
- Learn from every interaction
Talking about non-cake people, some people go further than that. Life is full of less than pleasant experiences, events and people, but the old “no pain, no gain” quote is true! You don’t learn as much from cruising through life in your comfort zone as you do from being challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. I believe everything happens for a reason, including the bad things, so every time anything happens I look for the reason and make it into a lesson for next time. Every single time you interact with someone is an opportunity to learn, whether it’s blissfully positive or devastatingly awful. You either learn something about yourself, about the other person, about business, about life… You can take the opportunity or you can ignore it, but especially if it’s been a tough or upsetting experience, searching for a lesson or positive take away is a great coping mechanism. After a negative interaction, I always look for something I’ve done wrong to work on, something they’ve done wrong to avoid or something both of us can learn for next time. Never let anyone dull your sparkle, just make it an excuse to find a way to sparkle brighter next time!
- Be patient
Remember that everyone is a person with their own shit going on. You never really know what’s going on in someone else’s mind and we’re all so incredibly different that it’s actually a miracle we all co-exist in the one space. Always take a moment to reflect on things and perhaps try to see the other person’s perspective. There are two sides to every story, and everyone can only go by what their interpretation of an interaction was. So just be patient with other people, everyone is just doing their best.
The people around you are probably the most powerful influence in your life, so reflect deeply on the network you have surrounded yourself with. Just like a wardrobe, it’s healthy every now and then to sit down and do a little spring clean. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who make a positive contribution to your life and once you’ve found them, appreciate the hell out of them. Also think carefully about what kind of person you are and how you influence other people’s lives – try to leave a wonderful legacy behind you.
Article by Sarah Holloway