6 Tips for Building a Strong Support Network from Unlikely Sources
In business, building a network within your professional “community” is a given. This means creating trusting, reliable connections so you can support, guide, mentor and teach each others. Having spent 20 years in various IT consulting and product management roles, I’ve felt its importance first-hand.
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Yet, the biggest lessons I’ve learned about the power of a strong network come from a different angle of my life. These lessons have enabled my family -- and my career -- to thrive during my spouse’s military deployments. In a nutshell, they’ve supported both my personal and professional life.
My husband is in the United States Navy Reserve, and we have three daughters. Unlike families of most active U.S. military members who typically live on or near bases with dedicated support services, we lead a largely civilian life in the Chicago area. That is, until my husband gets called for active duty. Since our marriage, he’s had three major deployments, and the longest saw him away for about one and a half years.
At the time of his first deployment, we’d lived in our community for just a short time. I soon found myself juggling work and our daughters’ schedules, while trying to find suitable after-school care. It was impossible to manage it all, a new experience for me. Usually, I take care of everything; it may not be perfect, but I was always self-sufficient. I understood quickly that this was an unprecedented situation and that I’d need to find local sources of support to capably manage work and family.
During this first deployment, I recognized my limits and the importance of having a strong circle. Building “my community” took time and creativity, but here are my key take-aways.
1. Cast a wide net
You can draw support from many facets, so think broadly. Over time, I’ve expanded my network beyond my immediate family to include neighbors, teachers, families of my daughters’ friends and school mates, work colleagues, even our local police officer. When my husband is deployed, these important partners play a vital role in our daily routine -- transportation, fresh meals and peace of mind, while my husband is thousands of miles away.
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2. Look for insight where you don’t expect it
While there were no military spouses nearby, I discovered through school and my daughters that I had a lot in common with many single parents in my community. I don’t think of myself as a single parent, but these interactions provided tremendous insight into managing the demands of daily life.
3. Find someone to go to bat for you
I got to know a neighbor several blocks away who came from a military family. She was eager to assist, including providing a kind ear and after-school transportation. She became an invaluable resource and friend.
4. Be part of someone else’s support network
Our family of five has much to offer others and help them succeed in meaningful ways. Whether delivering frozen meals to neighbors, helping with resumes and computers skills or sending letters and care packages to our troops. Our girls have taken a special interest in one family, baking and delivering treats at the holidays. It’s a privilege to be a family that serves our country, and it provides a strong impetus to serve our local community too.
5. Educate others
My husband and I have spent time in our daughters’ classrooms, introducing students and teachers to the role and lifestyle of our military and their families. I’ve also been willing to talk at the office about the challenges of managing family life while my husband is deployed.
6. Network in a way that makes sense
Everyone’s needs, situation and personal style are different, and there is no formula for building a personal network. Try to find specific events that are comfortable for you to attend. For me, it started with chatting informally with other parents at activities like soccer practice. Eventually, we opened our home to other neighbors.
I’ve learned that having a strong community support network is critical to your personal and your professional well-being. My husband’s deployment drove me to build a personal support network in addition to my professional one. At times, I’ve needed help, guidance or an extra pair of hands -- one cannot always do it alone. Now, I focus on both getting and giving support to others.
Today, my husband is home, and our home life is as crazy as ever. I remain engaged and active with my support networks and help and support others. When I reflect back on this journey, I remember the time my spouse left for his last deployment. My message for him was to focus on his mission, as I would be focused on mine.
The day following his departure, my daughters and I left the driveway to begin our new weekday routine: we saw that neighbors had tied yellow ribbons to their trees, to mark my husband’s deployment and military service. In that moment, I knew we were not alone in our mission, and we had a community.
(By Alissa Liddle. Alisa Liddle is a Senior Manager at West Monroe Partners, where she is responsible for leading Corporate IT for a fast-growing consultancy. She has over eighteen years of expertise leading organizational initiatives from concept through delivery in highly challenging and technical environments.)