It’s tough to be struggling through a career crisis on your own, so being a good friend at times like these is so important. That said, figuring out what your friend actually needs from you during a time like this is easier said than done.
Keep these best practices in mind, to be the best possible friend:
Tap into Empathy, not Sympathy
Brene Brown has a great little bit about the difference between empathy versus sympathy, that really underscores the importance of feeling with people – not for them.
Bottom line: when you’re struggling, you don’t want anyone’s pity, you simply want to be seen and validated and truly felt heard. To be a good friend in this case, that requires you to tap into a part of your life when you felt the same lousy way your friend is now.
Resist the temptation to just cheer them up. Feeling with others means sitting in discomfort with them, mirroring back the feelings they’re struggling with, and validating their experience by reminding them how perfectly reasonable their feelings are.
Ask before Giving Advice
It’s tempting to jump right into problem-solving mode (especially if you’re naturally inclined to give advice freely). But be sure to ask before jumping into advice-giving.
Sometimes your friend will be ready and waiting for someone to help troubleshoot the situation. But often after hitting a career roadblock, people need some time to wallow – and that’s ok!
If you get the sense that your friend is ready to take the next step and regain a sense of agency and control over their careers, tell them you’re here to help. You might say, “When you’re ready to kick-start your job search, I’ll be the first to review your resume with you and connect you to some contacts in the industry, but until them, I’m here with some wine and Netflix if that’s what you need, too!”
Help Internalize / Externalize Feedback
Sometimes when facing down failure, there’s something to learn from it. Maybe by getting passed over for this promotion, you’re reminded of how important it is to take initiative in seeking those kinds of opportunities out instead of waiting for your hard work to be noticed and rewards.
But often, life just isn’t fair. Injustice happens. You can “play by the rules,” do everything right, and things still might not shake out fairly. When that’s the case, it’s important to help your friend see the injustice for what it is so she doesn’t overcorrect.
Help her parse through the systemic injustice to uncover any key learnings that might help her moving forward, and then remind her it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing her best.
At the end of the day, one of the best things you can do is remind your friend that they have overcome challenges before, and they’ll do it again. Give them a real world example of their own bravery and courage (not perfection, but resilience!) and tell them that is why you believe in their ability to overcome this new challenge, too.