Mentoring Tip- 5 Ways to Find Your Professional Bad Day Buddy
Some of the best professional advice that I have ever received came from Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young, a senior female colleague, mentor, and engineering professor who advised me to find a “Bad Day Buddy” (BDB). Although a person would hope not to have any bad days on a job (Ha!), a BDB is a valuable resource for any professional. A BDB is needed to offer consistent feedback and to be a sounding board with whom you can share your professional (and sometimes personal) ups and downs. Although a BDB relationship can be informal, I suggest that both parties formalize the BDB relationship by defining mutually beneficial terms of this relationship. Of all the new faculty advice that I have received, connecting to a BDB has been the most applicable!
My BDB is a my homegirl and is like a sister to me. We are both African-American engineering faculty born and raised in the South. We attended Spelman College (6 years apart) and majored in math. We have lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and we obtained our Ph.D.s from Vanderbilt University. At one point, we attended the same church but at different times. She and I are both engineering professors in Indiana, a place where black engineering female professors are rare. In spite of our parallel paths, we did not meet until I became an Assistant Professor 10 years ago. People told me for years that I needed to connect to her, but we never did. She invited my husband and me to dinner, and the rest is history!
Adding a BDB to your network will enhance your life greatly. Following are some tips to help you to identify your own “Bad Day Buddy!”
(1) You should like her as a person.
I enjoy my BDB’s personality. Her laid back mannerism complements my somewhat over-the-top, slightly opinionated (!) personality. We are both direct, which is fine with me since I don’t like to assume where I stand with people. (My philosophy is that people will either like me or they won’t. If they don’t like me, they can move on. Life is too short to engage in meaningless relationships.). I can spend hours with her. We text each other at random times. We laugh at the same jokes. Although we initially discussed only work, we soon realized that we enjoy some of the same TV shows and enjoy analyzing them the same way. We encounter similar family issues and now offer advice to each other about ways to balance our personal and professional lives. I don’t have to be “Dr. Cox” with her, and this allows us to have great, engaging conversations.
BDB Finder Tip: When you are around your potential BDB, do you feel that you can talk for hours? Do you find yourself sharing information that you rarely discuss with others? Is there a friendship spark that you can’t explain? If the answers are yes, she might your BDB.
(2) She should be available for mentoring moments at various times during the workday.
Before you stop reading this post completely, let me clarify what I mean when I say availability. Your BDB is not someone who you text or call on a Monday, and she contacts you on Friday. She is someone who will contact you at her earliest convenience, hopefully that same day. This is what makes a BDB relationship special.
This “on call” relationship should not be problematic, however, since your BDB is not someone you are going to call every day of your professional life. Your BDB should offer you timely, objective advice and should guide you until your crisis has passed. Remember, this is your “Bad Day” buddy, and you will not have bad days every day!
BDB Finder Tip: Note the availability of your BDB. If he/she doesn’t respond to you before your situation passes, this person might not be your BDB. The same holds true for your availability. It will take time to confirm that this is a solid BDB relationship, but when it’s right, you will know it.
(3) She should NOT be employed in your organization.
As much as you like your colleagues down the hall, they should not be your BDBs. Until you know that you can trust them 100% with your information, sharing your real thoughts and feelings with them could prove disastrous, especially if you work in a competitive environment. (I even recommend that you do not add anyone in your environment to your private social media accounts unless you can really trust them.)
Having a BDB outside of my organization helps me to strategize without bias. After explaining any unusual happenings, she offers me an objective lens from which to make decisions and to move ahead. Before I do this, however, I share my real, in the moment thoughts with her and offer ridiculous solutions and responses that I would never implement in the workplace. In this way, my BDB prevents me from responding unprofessionally to my colleagues. For this, I am grateful!
BDB Finder Tip: Engage with people face-to-face at conferences or in casual settings to see if a BDB relationship could blossom. Test the waters by sharing some personal information. Seek advice, and notice how the person listens and responds. If she responses soundly and shares some of her experiences also, this might be a BDB!
(4) She should be authentic and should appreciate your authenticity.
As you can tell, I am opinionated. The thing that I love about my BDB is that she doesn’t try to change this about me. Having a BDB doesn’t mean that I want someone who is trying to fix or to correct me all of the time. If I am irrational, my BDB and I discuss this and I listen to her, because she does not judge me for having and for expressing my opinions. She meets me where I am, and we sort through my problems based on my temperament and my preferences. Because I’m decisive, I offer responses to her questions in a direct manner, and she often receives my advice quickly and in the spirit in which I am offering it.
BDB Finder Tip: In your conversation with a potential BDB, throw out something that you would only share with those closest to you. Note the response. If it’s guarded, defensive, or judgmental, this might not the BDB for you. Remember, you’re trying to find someone with whom you can keep it 100!
(5) She should have some knowledge of your profession and the nuances of this profession.
I am blessed to have a BDB who is also an engineering professor. For this reason, I can discuss teaching and administrative issues that I face and tell her my issues without having to provide organizational background information all of the time. We can then come up with quick solutions and move forward.
BDB Finder Tip: Talk to your professional colleagues and friends about possible BDBs. Allow them to present you with initial candidates. These referrals could reduce the amount of time that you use seeking like-minded peers.
In conclusion, BDBs are valuable resources who can offer new perspectives, sound advice, and constant encouragement as you navigate your professional journey and seek mentoring opportunities. Although it may take time to locate your BDB, this time is worth the investment. Best wishes on connecting to one of the most important people in your life!