do The opening line from Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities seems like the perfect description of the year we’ve just gone through: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

We’re all too familiar with the factors that made it the worst of times, including the stresses of COVID, Brexit, social inequality, and the economic downturn to name a few.

But as I reflect on the year, there truly were the best of times sprinkled throughout. The laugh-out-loud fun conversations in the kitchen with just our household bubble during lockdown.

The weekly family Zooms with three generations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Hearing from high school friends I hadn’t talked to in years.

These were part of the happy moments throughout the year which made it not only livable, but at many points extraordinarily joyful.

And the common thread? It’s the relationships I have with the people in my life.

We’ve all had to rely on our network of relationships more than ever and in different ways

For me, that’s meant providing moral support to a high school friend who’s midway through a course of chemotherapy. Befriending an elderly neighbor who lives alone and making sure she gets her Sunday paper every week.

And having my network of relationships to tap into gives me comfort that somehow, it will all be okay and that we’ll get through it all together.

Just as “culture beats strategy” in moving companies forward, it’s our network of relationships that help us win the day, not just our skills and brainpower.

But relationships don’t just magically appear. They take time, effort and investment. Here are three strategies that have helped me build a network that made this year happy and worthwhile for me. I hope they can help you in the new year.

  1. Make room for relationships
  2. Reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with
  3. Invest in your community of support

Let’s start with the first strategy.

Make room for relationships

Relationships are essential for your career success and personal enjoyment of life, so it’s important to make room for them.

First, take a hard look at the way you’re allocating your time and energy to make sure you’re not always choosing “work” at the expense of “people”.

As a driven achiever, I struggled to justify pulling my nose away from the proverbial grindstone to play a game with my kids or get home in time for dinner most nights. Until finally, my boss’s boss pulled me aside and ordered me to go home in time for dinner two nights a week and take my children to school twice a month even though it meant coming in late.

Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I have to remind myself to make room for relationships by remembering this when I’m choosing between work and home: “put relationships before tasks”. That’s helped me make better choices in the moment. And I’ve found I can still get most of the work done … in less time!

Second, you may need to reallocate the time you do spend on relationship building. As you evolve, you’ll benefit from embracing new people into your life. And when you’ve maxed out on allocating more time to relationship building and nurturing, it’s time to apply Marie Kondo’s “Lifechanging Magic of Tidying” method to your relationships.

That means focusing on the people and groups who “spark joy” for you, the ones you feel good being around. And make sure you do your best to spark joy for them too!

And if you have to work with people who don’t spark joy, see if you can reframe your views and find the good in them. If you can’t, then it’s probably time to move on.

Which leads us to the next strategy.

Reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with

You get to choose the people you want to keep in your life. But sometimes, we drift apart because life and work take us in different directions. When enough time goes by, it feels embarrassing to call or write and you move on even though you enjoyed each other’s company in the past.

But as we travel through life, there comes a time when it’s good to have someone who knew you when you were young, or at least younger. I was reminded of that when I finally got up the courage to reconnect with my best friend from high school.

By then it was decades later and the only contact information I still had was her parents’ old phone number. I somehow pulled it out of long-term memory and held my breath as I dialed, hoping that they still lived in the same house.

Her father answered the phone and was delighted to hear my voice. It wasn’t embarrassing in the least and he reconnected me with my friend. Fast forward to now, I’m glad I’ve been able to be part of her support network as she goes through chemotherapy.

If you’ve been too busy with your work and life to write to an old friend, colleague or client, it’s time to reach out and reconnect to see how you can rekindle the relationship. If it’s meant to be, it will be. But someone has to make the first move. Why not you?

And once you do reconnect, remember that not everyone needs daily, weekly or even monthly touch points. So don’t let the fear of committing to more relationship building time stop you!

Which brings us to the third strategy.

Invest in your community of support

In challenging times, it takes a community of supportive people and relationships to help you weather the storm. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.”

So look at the breadth of your relationships and the communities you belong to. Consider the depth of those relationships and whether you’ve got enough people with whom you’ve put down deeper roots.

Make sure your network of relationships is neither “an inch deep and a mile wide” nor “an inch wide and a mile deep”. It’s about striking a balance where you have a broad enough network to draw on for all your needs, and a rich enough set of trusted relationships with people you can turn to when the chips are down.

In my case, my family, friends and a few close colleagues provide the depth while there are a number of groups I belong to that provide the breadth. Some of these communities are ones I’ve paid to join while others are free. But together, they cover all the areas that matter in my life right now.

For example, I belong to a community of fitness enthusiasts who spur me on to keep training (NewWave CrossFit), a peer coaching group who helps me continue my learning and development as a coach, two business mastermind groups that help me with business-related challenges, and a “Breakfast Club” of women I meet with when I travel to Arizona (we’re on Zoom now).

Whatever the breadth and depth of your network, make sure there’s mutual advantage – that you’re both giving and receiving value. This doesn’t mean being transactional, where you do someone a favor and expect one in return. But overall, the relationships need to provide value for you, and make you feel valued by others as well.

So invest in relationships that provide you with connections in the parts of your life that are most important to you now. And evolve them as your needs and interests change. For example, when you first become a parent or an empty nester, or when you start a new hobby or move to a new location.

But what if you’re too busy to build your network of relationships?

One of our deepest needs is for belonging and human beings need other people to survive. It dates back to prehistoric days when the ultimate penalty was to be kicked out of the tribe because your chances of survival were low to non-existent.

So you don’t have to spend tons of time. But you will be wise to allot relationship building time to your days and weeks and treat it with respect as you would other basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

Just don’t make the mistake of overinvesting and then dropping out

My friend Dan (not his real name) joined a business network and was so excited about it that he joined several committees, helped recruit new members and took the lead on organizing the annual gala event.

15 months later, he dropped out entirely saying “it just wasn’t worth it.” He acknowledged that his tendency to “go all in” led him to overinvest in the network. To the point where he’d burned himself out on too much of a good thing. And if he could do it all over again, he would make a more modest time investment and, in all likelihood, get more enjoyment as a result.

So when you go forward in building relationships, find a way to do it sustainably for you.

Life is more enjoyable when it’s shared with others

And having the right people in your life is incredibly valuable. None of us succeeds alone. That’s why we all need a network of supportive relationships, including friends, family, colleagues, mentors and sponsors.

So in this festive holiday season, it’s a great time to look back on the year and appreciate the people in your life. Who do you need to show your appreciation to?

It’s also the time to look ahead to the relationships you want to invest in in the new year. Which relationships do you want to build or strengthen?

As you reflect on the past year and look forward to the next, remember to:

  • Make room for relationships in your life – and focus on the people who you feel good being around and look for ways you can “spark joy” for each other.
  • Reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with – there’s value in people who’ve known you in the past, so be willing to reach out first.
  • Invest in your community of support – relationships get stronger when they’re mutual and you have to give as well as take so we can all rise higher together.

Who do you appreciate and how do you plan to invest in your network of relationships this year?

Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!