As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that some of the most empowering, nourishing relationships in my life are the friendships and professional relationships I have with other women.
But it hasn’t always been that way. In high school, I felt like I was surrounded by “mean girls”—and as a creative, artsy, outspoken kid, I wasn’t always sure where I fit in with other girls.
They often seemed competitive, exclusive–and either intimidating to me or intimidated by me—and it often seemed simpler and more straightforward to forge friendships and collaborations with guys.
As I got older, though, I met other women I really connected to—and I realized that there was nothing like that kind of connection.
Now, as an adult, I adore my male friends, but I realize how much I was missing out on without a close circle of women in my life.
It took me a little while to understand why it had seemed so tricky for me to figure out how to cultivate close relationships with other women.
It wasn’t that something was wrong with me—or with them. It was that society often encourages women to compete with each other.
There’s a pervasive mythology that there are only so many seats at the table for women.
Growing up in our culture, we absorb this idea that if we achieve something, look fabulous, step into our power—that somehow that takes away from other women.
But that is a total myth. And as I’ve moved through the world, I’ve realized that the opposite is true.
The more we shine, the more we encourage other women to do the same. And women have an incredible sense of collective power: there is absolutely nothing in the world like a group of women who all feel great—and fully themselves–and are encouraging each other to do the same.
Because our culture promotes this idea of competition between women, unless you’ve known someone forever, it can feel a little tricky to figure out how to forge deep, supportive bonds with other women.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have really helped me create wonderful relationships with other women, both socially and professionally:
Be generous with praise
If you think it, say it! It can feel strangely vulnerable to tell someone what you like about them—that the new idea she articulated in a meeting really sparked your imagination, that you love to see how kind she is to strangers, or even that her shoes are fabulous or she’s having a totally amazing hair day.
But it’s so nourishing—to all of us—to get that kind of positive reinforcement.
When we hear about the good that someone sees in us, we’re suddenly reminded to see it in ourselves.
And when I’m the one to break the ice, I often find the compliments start flowing—everyone around me realizes how good it feels and suddenly starts saying nice things out loud instead of just thinking them!
Compliments are contagious—they bond us, and they undo that cultural mythology that we’re supposed to compete.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to women you admire.
As grown women, it’s easy to assume that everyone is super busy, that nobody has time for new friendships or connections.
But if you admire someone, chances are there’s some kind of real connection there.
I’ve found that when I follow these impulses, and have the courage to articulate them and follow up, it often leads to great friendships, alliances, or collaborations.
And when other women have reached out to me, putting themselves out there and being honest that something I’ve done or said has meant something to them, I always find myself moved, surprised, and inspired to make room for exploring that connection.
Open yourself up to intergenerational friendships and alliances.
Because it’s easiest to make friends when we’re just starting out in the world, many of us tend to get and stay close with women our own age. For a lot of us, our closest women friends are women we went to school with, or connected with when we were just starting out in life.
It’s great—and necessary!–to have close friendships with women in the same stage of life, so we have common ground and can go through similar phases and changes together.
But if we limit our connections with other women to our own age group, we miss out on the amazing opportunities for growth and learning that can come from intergenerational friendships.
One of my favorite female friendships is with a woman who’s technically old enough to be my mom.
She’s vibrant, creative, and a total inspiration to me—and has been through so many of the things I’m grappling with now and has an incredible perspective on it all.
I also have a group of female friends who are all about ten years younger than I am. Their lives look different from mine—only a few of them have partners, and none of them have mortgages or kids.
But the different phase of life they’re in reminds me to stay curious, experimental and open with my own life—and they tell me that it’s great for them to see someone who’s a little further along with all the life-structure stuff and shares their values.
As I’ve opened up to friendships and professional relationships with women of different generations, those relationships have opened me up to a rich variety of perspectives on what it is to be a woman—and to a real understanding of the old saw that “age is just a number”—and that any age can look and feel however we want it to.