Personal Development

Building an Advisory Board for Life

Advisory boards are frequently utilized in a professional setting, usually found in startups. One of my mentors from graduate school introduced the concept of building an advisory board for your life. She always encouraged us to keep smart and intelligent people in our circle and use them as a resource when you need advice. At the most basic definition, an advisory board (usually separate from the Board of Directors (BOD)) functions as a sounding board for founders and entrepreneurs. Advisory boards are brought in when founders and entrepreneurs want to expand or change part of their business. It’s expected that the advisory board has personal and industry experience with this certain area, to help give some clarity and guidance. 

As someone who likes to make calculated decisions, I know from experience that it’s impossible to always successfully predict outcomes from all of our decisions. But having a rough idea on the possible consequences and benefits of your decisions can help you optimize a plan for when something goes wrong (or right of course!…) — the epitome of Simply Prepared. You will never be an expert or perfect at everything, but this will help you feel more in control of your life. There will always be a situation where you feel like you aren’t sure how to proceed, and need to seek out advice from friends and advisors on how to move forward. 

Who do you go to for what? Who do you know will always be there? Who can you trust to give unbiased opinions? Who will sit there (figuratively) and what do they advise on? Who are not yes-men and will give you insightful advice?

I believe that inherently, you already have some answers to the above questions. I’m merely here to organize and help you bring your (imaginary) advisory board to life.

There are five distinct groups of people that are possible to derive people from (note that all of them may not be applicable to you or your life will have variations of these groups but I am including them all for inclusivity). 

Family, Relatives & Significant Others/Partners

These are your parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, partners, etc. Depending on where you are in your life and what you need to clarify, might dictate who you might turn to for certain advice. For example, I like to go to my dad for financial advice. He and I have had similar backgrounds, work in similar industries and he has supported me for the majority of my life so far so I know he knows what to do. 

Please note that because some of these people might be really close to you, and have a very similar background as you do, they might not be the best at giving unbiased advice — it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you and have your best interest at heart! 

Friends

As the heading says, FRIENDS. While it is hard to admit, I am sure we all have friendship tiers. I have a handful of friends (top tier) who are very close to me and are basically part of my family. I speak to them as much as I speak to my parents (everyday) and know that I can always go to them to vent, rant, tell them about my achievements, failures, and when I need help. My tier one friends are all at a different milestone in their lives. This helps me determine who I go to for what kind of advice. For example, I have recently had to explore individual health insurance – something I had no experience in and as an international student, had acquired low knowledge of throughout the years. I have a friend who has experience in various healthcare entities in the US and almost two degrees in this space, so you can guess who I turned to, to make these decisions.

Professional connections 

These are your colleagues, supervisors, bosses, etc. These connections are not tied down to your present job,  but rather can be from the network that you have created over the years.  Having professional connections on your advisory board allows you to have a field expert who can advise you on your career pursuit, moves, and can act as a great reference when needed.

Educational connections 

Fellow students, peers, professors, academic advisors, etc., are great for a life advisory board. Some of the people I go to on a regular basis fall into this category. I have made strong-enough connections during undergrad and grad school that has allowed me the freedom to just send them an email or reach out via LinkedIn to set up a time to chat. You and your fellow students typically have similar experiences and aspirations, and your professors have most likely been there and done that. Bringing a network of individuals from your academic life, full of passion and experience, can help you in finding new and exciting things to do in your future. 

People whose jobs it is to help you navigate life 

These are your career advisors, therapists, etc., whose job designation is to help others in specific ways. They are professionals and this option does typically require out-of-pocket payments, so it might not be financially feasible to utilize this regularly. However, if you are a student, you may have various advisors available to you at no cost through your school. They are there to help so make sure you utilize these resources. Some workplaces also have in house counsel and advisors for employees. They are great sounding boards because they are professionally trained to be unbiased, keep your best interests at hand, and help you reach a decision you are comfortable with. 

Choosing people from these different walks of life depending on where you are in your life, will help you create your board. For example, right now I am a recent graduate and job hunting during this pandemic/quarantine situation. I have a mentor/professor and career consultant who I speak to regularly who helps me keep the momentum going in my professional life. I have my family and a solid set of friends that I can speak to about career and life decisions and they helped me navigate these during this pandemic.

Asking for help is never a wrong thing to do ~ the worst one can say is “No” and if so, move on and ask the next person on your list. Never be ashamed to admit you need assistance navigating the ups and downs of life. Remember that this is an advisory board — that means you are just there to gain a new perspective and some possible direction. At the end of the day, you should do what you are most comfortable with, and would be most beneficial for your priorities.

Do make sure you return the favor when someone reaches out to you. Keep the good karma going!

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