Of all the places in Cleveland I thought I’d find myself late last year, the inside of a “sister circle” at a local Jewish synagogue seemed the least likely.
But as part of my duties for a social media client, I attended a presentation in the midst of 40 or so midlife Jewish women—each in their cardigans, sensible shoes, and near matching short haircuts. They listened attentively to the speaker, engaged with the rabbi and then retired to the atrium for a hot lunch.
During our meal (absolutely delicious vegetarian chili and salad) I had a chance to chit-chat with some of the women at my table. One woman confided in me that when she was young girl, she thought groups like this — women who gathered midday to learn and talk — were for “old women.”
Now in her mid 70s, she looked forward to the weekly gatherings as a break from caring for her ailing husband. It helped her stay in touch with herself and now she said she wished she had been coming the whole time. Other woman I met had the same story—it wasn’t until her husband got hit with early onset dementia that she lost out on companionship and sought it out in other women.
Whether they knew it or not, they were imparting lessons into me on sisterhood, friendship and the importance of feeding yourself before you’re hungry.
I consider myself fortunate that as a twenty-something, I’ve already learned that I need other women on this journey.
I can not be the wife, mother, friend, entrepreneur, daughter, etc., that I want to be without the love and guidance from other women. I just can’t.
When I entered adulthood I had two small children on my ankles and very little free time to explore myself. My sister circle from high school and college shrank and I was left with very few “real” friends.
But over the past two years, I’ve been intentional about building community. I needed women who understood where I was in life, who had some of the answers I was seeking and who could give me support without judgement. And now, at 30, I can say I’ve found it.
Was it easy? Not in the slightest. But I had to keep my eyes open, focus on what I needed and be honest about the fact that I need support, in the same way I need to sleep at night.
Listen—men are great, if that’s the way you swing. But there is something about the power of a woman who can grab your hand, nod her head in support and say, “I hear you.” If you have a great group of friends by your side, you don’t need anything else.
So how do you build your tribe? Here’s the five steps I took to feel more supported in every area of my life:
- Let go of any toxic thinking about women. I didn’t believe the “women don’t support women” myth. Listen—my crew? They are the most supportive, engaging, thoughtful women I have ever met. They give 100% of themselves when I need them and they do not hesitate to pick up the pom-poms and cheer for me. My victories are their victories and vice versa. If you truly do not think women can be supportive, you do not know the right women.
- Identify your biggest needs first. Are you in school and need someone to commiserate with over exams? Are you a newlywed and need some “wife advice”? Are you a mommy with a hard-to-handle teen? What is it that you need out of your friendships? That’s where you need to start looking.
- Reach out. With the examples in #2, you can find a student organization, a couples ministry, a motherhood support group to help get the support you need. Be open to people who don’t think exactly like you and who don’t act exactly like you. The loud woman with the big laugh? Just might be the girlfriend you need.
- Follow up. This is where most people fall short, because they’re afraid of being vulnerable and letting people know they’d like to make a connection. But if you want a healthy, vibrant support system, following up is a must! It lets people know you’re open for a connection and if they felt any type of spark (God, this sounds like dating), you’ll be good to go! But if you’re too afraid of rejection and stuck in fear, then you’ll never get the sisterhood you crave.
- Let them love you. This might be the hardest step of all, because again, it’s hard to be vulnerable in front of people for fear that they can take what they know (your secrets!) and hurt you. When I was having marital troubles last year, I didn’t want my friends to judge me silently for getting married too young or to roll their eyes at my petty problems. But I had to take that risk if I wanted support. And being able to cry while your friends calmly and softly tell you that everything will be okay? That is priceless.
Don’t wait until you need your support system to go about creating one.