I spent the first 25 years of my professional life at the same company. I literally grew up there and feel confident saying that I never would’ve thrived in my personal or professional life without my “squad.”
My squad was a group of women that I humbly nicknamed the “Wonder Women.” We worked together, we raised kids together, we shared our successes and failures together. We’ve had similar career paths, we’re similar ages, and we have similar values. At times, I acted as the “leader” in this squad, and other times, I acted as a “follower.” When faced with difficult professional and personal challenges, this group’s support has made all the difference in the world. They are without a doubt a big part of why I am who I am today.
Take a big career change I made as an example. I was worried about how I’d do in the new role and was concerned about the fact that my son would have to change schools. There’s nothing like the stress of a new job combined with mom guilt. My Wonder Women crew rallied, sharing their experiences and perspectives. Instead of struggling with imposter syndrome on top of a bad mom complex, I was able to embrace opportunity and change confidently.
As is the case with so many people, the pandemic has driven me to think a lot about human contact and the impact of loneliness: feeling like it is you—alone—against the world versus belonging to something.
The benefits of belonging to a squad are well-established. Studies suggest that loneliness and social isolation are both remarkably common and a risk factor for early mortality. People need people. It’s a real deep-down-in-the-bones need.
That started me thinking more broadly about the importance of having squads. I also belong to multiple non-work groups that are as diverse as they are meaningful. One is what I call my baseball squad—it’s come together over the years as my son has played on teams and I’ve had the opportunity to meet the other parents. Building a squad around something like your child’s interest pushes you to connect with a wider variety of people. These connections and the resulting conversations have contributed a richness to my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise. This squad in particular reminds me on a regular basis why I need to push out of my comfort zone when it comes to collaborating and growing.
Which brings me to last July. In the summer of 2020, I found a new squad in a place and with people I never would have imagined: Thirty Madison, a digital healthcare business that I recently joined as president.
From the beginning, I worked closely, yet remotely, with the company’s two co-founders, Steve and Demetri. We are different from one another in so many ways, including gender, age, and background. I grew up and went to school in the Midwest; they’ve known each other since their first year at NYU. They are millennials, and I’m a Gen-X mom with a son graduating from high school.
Because of these differences, I was initially skeptical that our relationship would ever go beyond tactical day-to-day work needs. But over the course of the past year, I’ve learned that those differences make our work together better—and our work as individuals stronger. We fit the very definition of a squad: a tight-knit group of supporters who bring out the best in each other.
Interacting solely over Zoom has given us the opportunity to fast-track our squad’s closeness through experiences, like meeting each other’s families and even seeing each other’s childhood bedrooms (as we dial in from our childhood homes). These windows into each other’s lives allowed our relationship to quickly become one of immense trust and growth.
Now, despite our differences, I can say with full confidence that I look forward to sharing the big work and life milestones with Steve and Demetri for years to come.
It’s not always easy to build a squad—especially at work as you rise up through the ranks. Often, leaders are encouraged to wall themselves off from others, to be the boss. Many times, I was given feedback to limit or “bottle up” my natural personal connectivity. It was seen as “too much.” But what I found was that the more you wall yourself off from others, the more you narrow the scope of who can be in your squad. That in turn makes you a less effective leader and person.
So, if I leave you with one takeaway, let it be this: as we emerge from the isolation of the pandemic, making the time to bring new and different people into your life makes you better personally and professionally. You simply don’t know who you’re going to connect with until you put yourself out there. And until you make those connections, you’re usually not able to see how much room you have to grow and flourish. No one can do it alone, so re-emerge and find your squads.