This week’s task is an examination of the people who play important roles in your life.  It doesn’t matter whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, we are social beings and need relationships in our lives.  If you have a pet you know that these relationships need not all be human.  Likewise, if you are Tom Hanks in Cast Away you know that, should you happen to be stranded on a deserted island for 5 years, a volleyball makes a great pal.  Didn’t you get a little choked up at least when Wilson ended up floating away at sea?  You forgot at that point that you were praying that a volleyball would make its way back to Tom.  It didn’t matter by then that this was a piece of sports equipment, Tom had developed a relationship with the volleyball:  an emotional connection.

I’m turning to this topic today because of the importance of support networks in our lives.  I alluded to this yesterday – how I have been able to ride my bumps fairly gracefully over the past several months because of the people I can count on.

How about you?  Let’s examine the humans in your life (you are free to look at other animate relationships, too, but let’s just keep it at that for this task).  Let’s get a really great visual of who exists in your world and then identify key people as your support network.

I told you before that I like simple charts with rows and columns.  You can experiment with your visual representation so that it best suits you.  Don’t forget to add colour where you want (you can use a coloured pencil, highlighters etc) or stick to black and white if that makes your chart more read-able to you.

This task might be overwhelming to those of you who exchange BlackBerry pins with people you meet at the grocery store.  So, let’s set a maximum number of 10 people you will focus on.

My chart would have the following columns:  Name of Person, Type of Relationship (i.e. parent, friend, spouse, colleague), Length of Relationship, What I Receive, What I Contribute, Key Support Network.

Let’s look at these column titles for a minute.  The first three are fairly obvious.  Under What I Receive and What I Contribute, I would make bullets of short phrases that belong in these categories.  These relationship gifts (what you receive and what you contribute) don’t have to be deep and profound – maybe what you receive is a great night out once in awhile and maybe what you contribute is a referral source for potential business.  Don’t judge (yours or anyone else’s)!  Like I said, they’re all gifts, and appear in our life for a reason.

Sometimes what we receive from someone might be a headache or annoyance factor because we are that person’s sounding board for all of their petty complaints.  Is that a gift?  I’d say “yes” – this person may be in your life so that you are reminded of using your time wisely and setting limits!

So, what do I mean by Key Support Network?  A key support person to me is someone I can trust with my vulnerabilities and someone who I know will celebrate my accomplishments (big or small).  I don’t expect a whole heck of a lot from these people because I know that they have their own lives and demands.  I don’t expect that I am their top priority or that they drop everything to fulfill my needs.  I think I am fairly reasonable in what I expect from a supportive person in my life and strive to provide the same. 

Here’s something important:  My connection with my INNER SUPPORT SYSTEM allows me to be less dependent on and more forgiving of the human relationships in my life.  The phrase “You are your own best friend” is not just a cliché to me.

Someone who gets a “no” in this column is not by any means insignificant to me.  In my life, it doesn’t make sense to have 10 people under key support network.  I would hope that the people who are on my chart are supportive of me in some ways but the word “key” is…well, key.  So, don’t feel bad if you write a no beside your sister.  If she doesn’t fit your definition of key support person, that’s OK.

The purpose of this exercise is to make you aware of the gifts you receive and contribute in your relationships and to identify people who you should be able to count on for whatever you consider to be support.

After taking the time to do this (and it’s fantastic if you were able to prioritize this!), pull out your journal or task binder and write to these prompts:

  • What were your impressions of this exercise?  Was it useful?  Too complicated?
  • How easy was it to fill in your chart?  Which columns were trickier to fill than others?
  • What is your definition of a key support person?
  • Think of the people who you think you provide a lot of support to – write about the type of friend you are.  Is this honoured by the recipient?
  • Do you recognize and acknowledge your key support network?  How do you show you value their friendship?