I'm back from the wonderful Be Conference, where I reunited with and met some incredible people (example: the women who were on the panel I moderated included one who has summited Mount Everest six times, another who happens to be the Deputy Director of Astrophysics at NASA, and yet another who is a health advocate and the creator of "female Viagra," a company which sold for a billion dollars. See what I mean?). As part of the conference, I also had the opportunity to sit with 4 young women during a mentorship session, where they asked questions, and I answered to the best of my ability. One woman asked me if I had a mentor myself.
"Huh," I thought for a moment. "That's a great question. I don't think I have a mentor -- I think of mentors as people who are older or more experienced in what you do, and has blazed the path you're about to take. What I do is a bit of a hodgepodge of all kinds of stuff, so there aren't many people I can think of who I know who are both older than me, and who have done the same work. But that said, I do have a war council."
I went on to explain that my war council was a very select group of friends who I tend to turn to for advice. Some are men, some are women. Some are older, and some are younger. Some of them know each other, and some have never met. And because, as I thought more about it, I realized that it's probably a good thing for everyone to have a war council, I wanted to share some of the traits of the folks on my own council to help identify the people in your own life who are probably on yours. Because not every friend, as great as he or she might be, is necessarily war council material.
So here are the traits the folks on my war council share:
1) The folks on my war council know me well. That's not to say that they've known me for a long time (although most of them definitely have), but nonetheless, they know my strengths and my weaknesses, and they have a pretty good read on the kinds of things that I'm passionate about, and what I don't suffer well. I can trust them to give me pretty insightful advice, because they know how I'm likely to react to any consequences of any decisions I make.
2) They understand the kind of work that I do, and what I'm about. They may not actually do the same things, but they get it.
3) When I have successes, they're genuinely happy for me. These aren't folks who get jealous if something good happens to me, nor do they try to tear me down. These are folks who want to celebrate when something great happens, even if I don't necessarily see the reason to.
4) They're also the ones who genuinely want to help when I fail. These are the folks who will listen with care when I grieve a failure, and allow me some time to process it, but they won't let me wallow. They let me know if I'm being overdramatic, and they help me find the baby steps needed to rise again.
5) That said, they're not afraid to tell me if I'm screwing up. They are kind, but they are firm. They tell me if something is a great idea, or if it doesn't seem like a good idea, they help walk me through the thought process behind my ideas to determine if there's a way to make them better.
6) I trust them. They keep secrets secret, without a second thought. They're willing to be vulnerable with me, when I'm vulnerable with them.
7) They don't have any stakes in my game. They are somewhat disinterested parties, in that they have no conflicts of interest in giving me advice.
8) They always have my best interest at heart. And the feeling is very mutual.
I hope you all have war councils, friends -- they're worth their weight in gold, straight-up.
Soundtrack: The future is female, by Madame Gandhi. This young woman, the former drummer for M.I.A., performed at the Be Conference. She's a Georgetown University graduate (double-majored in mathematics and government, with a minor in women's studies), and a Harvard MBA. Her music is amazing, and I got to speak with her for some time after her performance -- she was positively charming.
I told you I met incredible folks.