Friends are the companions that accompany us on the many journeys of our life. It pays to reflect on who they are and what role they play at different stages of your life.
Why is it important to think about our friendships?
At Becoming, we believe in journeys. In fact, we believe in journeys within journeys. We know that we go on many smaller journeys within the greater journey arc of our life.
We base our Becoming Journey on the phases of the Hero’s Journey – walking alongside women through a period of order, disorder and then reorder. And one (of many) of the aspects that we consider with our women is the role of the allies, or companions, who walk alongside them helping them tackle the trials and enemies that they face along the way. Think Dorothy, with Toto, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. Or think Katniss Everdeen, with Gale, Peeta and Haymitch. Or even Moana, with Maui and HeiHei.
And they are truly critical to the storyline. Without them, the hero would never survive the ordeal and receive their reward. They would never return to their ordinary world, with the promised elixir.
[As an aside, we are aware that the “hero’s journey” takes a very masculine lens on the development of literature. If you’re interested in a more feminine perspective, then we recommend Elizabeth Lesser’s book “Cassandra Speaks”. Or take a look at The Heroine Journey’s project website for an even wider perspective that challenges the need for these stories to be gendered at all. Anyway, let’s not digress.]
Why is it particularly important to think about companions for women?
The role of companions in the life and career of women is critical because research has shown that women use different kinds of networks to men to succeed. To succeed professionally, both women and men position themselves centrally in their network, and have access to multiple hubs, or connections that can link them to new networks. But women, in particular, also use an “inner circle of close female contacts”.
This research was focused on professional success, but intuitively this makes sense for women and their lives more generally. On our Becoming Journey a couple of weeks ago, we asked the women in our current cohort to tell us about their friends. And almost every woman on the call could describe close groups of female friends that were key in their lives. Some were formed in childhood, school or later in life. They were described with emotive language: “big sisters”, “my queens” or “my tribe”. And the smiles that shone on the faces of the women as they talked about those friendships were indescribable.
Different companions for different journeys
One of the overriding themes that came out as we listened to our women talk about their friendships was how we make different friends for different parts of our lives.
Some of us could describe friendships that had stood the test of time. My example is a dear friend that I’ve known since University – that’s about 23 years now. We’ve seen each other through everything. There’s nothing she doesn’t know (including the stuff that I’d never tell my parents or my partner!). But that was by far not the longest example of friendship we had on the call. One woman spoke of friends that she has known since the age of 5 – a friendship that had spanned more than 4 decades.
And some of us described friendships for phases of our life. The journeys within journeys. Friendships made while travelling or working or coping with a new stage of life. For me, some of those endure – like the woman who used to be my lunch buddy at work who I now see a few times a year to catch up. Others drift away – like the people who were my friends when I studied part-time for my Masters degree. But all are significant at the time.
Why do we need companions?
We are all on a journey – the journey of our life. And we all go through smaller journeys within that journey. They might be journeys of transition – puberty, pregnancy, menopause. They could be journeys of growth – study, qualification, promotion. They may be journeys of crisis – loss, grief, illness.
Whatever the journey, we are strengthened by those who walk alongside us. Maybe we need the people who have known us longest and can hold us accountable with the raise of an eyebrow. Or perhaps the people who are on the same journey as us, living the same experience at the same time. Or even those who have been through it before, who are willing to reach back and offer a helping hand. Whoever we need, we need people who will walk with us, listening, suspending judgment and offering counsel.
We are social beings, not designed to walk journeys alone. So, perhaps now is a good time to reflect. What journey are you on right now? And who is, and perhaps who could be, walking it alongside you?