By Beverly Copen
(March 23, 2015)
How Finding a Great Support Group Can Impact Your Personal and Professional Lives
Much has been written in the media in the last decade about women and their BFF’s (Best Friends Forever).
While I believe that is a solid concept, I have something I think is even better! How about having five BFF’s, all at the same time, and truly “forever” – i.e. for a lifetime? I have some, and these are known as my “Ya-Ya’s” – the name comes from the famous book by Rebecca Wells, later made into a movie with Sandra Bullock.
For over fifty years – truly the better part of a lifetime — all six of us in my own Ya-Ya group have been the deepest and most trusted friends. How did this come about, and what are the huge emotional and psychological advantages of having such a great support group? And perhaps even more intriguingly, how can these benefits impact your professional life? I’ll try to explain.
Short-Term Help Yields a Permanent Prize of Friendship
I started my first business, named Atlanta Models & Talent, in my mid-20’s. As I began adding clients to my roster of talent, I searched for existing actors and personalities already in radio, television or on stage. In the early days, when I needed talent for a commercial or photography session, there would be an audition – sometimes a “cattle call,” meaning producers requested a LOT of talent before selecting a few. It was during those times that my soon-to-be-BFF’s and I first got to know one another.
As president of the agency, it was my responsibility to help the talent become more professional in the visual and vocal presentations they would do in front of directors and producers. For those who needed and requested more help, such as a portfolio, I started a side business to help with this aspect. Once I got started, there were so many professional women offering to help me with all of the various elements (print and video presentations, etc.). Once we started working together, what I noticed was the following: we all seemed to want to help one another, rather than to “win” at all costs. There were no “Queen Bees.” We did not know the meaning of the word “jealous.” We looked for solutions, not who to blame.
Brainstorming and Building Professional Success
“Networking” “associations,” and “publicity” — these are all words that career women know today. But forty or fifty years ago, there were very few professional organizations tailored exclusively for women. Keep in mind, this was the very early stages of the growth of the film and commercial industry in Georgia.
So, a few of the most-respected young women in our newfound group began conversations about the need for the Georgia-based modeling business to have a professional organization. What emerged from all the discussions was the “Professional Model’s Association” (PMA). The founders were – you guessed it — some of my Ya-Ya’s.
PMA received substantial publicity, and we were off and running. After that came Women In Film, an organization that focused on the females in the film and video business. I got the idea for that from The Hollywood Reporter, and started the second chapter of WIF in Atlanta. More publicity and growth ensued.
Today the organization has become a worldwide organization with more than 10,000 members, and dozens of chapters. The Atlanta chapter is now called WIFTA (Women in Film and Television Atlanta), and in 2014, the Georgia film and commercial industry exceeded three billion dollars. Because of the wonderful visibility that resulted for all of us, I was invited to become the first Film Representative of Georgia in 1973, when Jimmy Carter was governor. All because a few of us females banded together, talked about how to handle the need for more publicity for our endeavor, and helped each other along.
The Ya-Ya’s Bond Further
During those years (while I was in my mid-thirties), these core friendships began to become a bond of trust and love.
Some of My Insights about the Quality of These Friendships:
- We respected one another.
- We offered positive suggestions to one another.
- We asked many questions and listened to the answers.
- We never seemed to “put down” anyone to make ourselves look better.
- We were genuinely excited when one of us got a job.
- If we had a problem at home, we always turned to one another for help – sometimes in the middle of the night.
Over the years we married — often more than once! — had kids, moved across the country for a job, a loved one or marriage. There were probably a dozen, or even two dozen years, when, before cell phones and internet, we were no longer following each others’ lives as closely.
But around 1990, there was a reunion of all of the leading models and talent with Atlanta Models & Talent. It was there that the core group of us Ya-Ya’s seemed to coalesce.
Interestingly, I have also found that I have probably interacted and communicated differently with others – outside the Ya-Ya’s – because of my relationships with that cherished band of five: the bond and trust we formed with one another made it natural for us to form deep, close friendships with other, new women (or men) in our lives. To this day I feel that I have more profound relationships with newer friends, some of which have lasted thirty years.
What are the Specific Qualities of these Special Ya-Ya Friendships?
- We “talk” on a regular basis via FB, email and telephone.
- If we don’t hear from one Ya-Ya for a long time, we know something bad is going on, and reach out.
- We keep up with challenges or disappointments one of us might be having, and don’t hesitate to offer ways to make it better. When one of us is hurting, all of us are hurting. If there is a death of a loved one/spouse, one of us often shows up to provide comfort and support.
- We celebrate successes and joy with great enthusiasm.
- When we are together, we always go shopping together. We still tell one another what looks good on them, and what does not. (Note: Chico’s should pay us to come in!)
- We get together at least once a year, somewhere in the U.S., to have mind-blowing, in-depth discussions about one another, and about life. We choose to stay in one home (not a hotel) so we can have one-on-one conversations, at any hour, and lots of group talks – often with laughter and tears. If one of us is struggling, we help write down a plan of action for that person we believe is needed. And afterwards, of course, with technology, we can communicate and share lives more easily than ever before.
Find Your Own Ya-Ya’s
And so, the value of lifetime girlfriends — and how it impacts your life — is powerful. The friendships may start in the professional arena, then evolve onto a more personal level. What is wonderful is that they may also make you feel more grounded in that professional arena, knowing that you have a fellow female to turn to for advice, consolation, or a plan of action.
Think carefully about whether you have this sort of energy in your life from a “giving group” of friends. If you have one such friend, you are fortunate. If you have a few, you are blessed. And if you don’t, try to be receptive to bringing that into your life. Join a professional association, find an organization related to a hobby of yours, or do volunteer work. All of these outlets have a built-in “interest-in-common” factor that will help you to bond with a potential future BFF. The most important element, though, to carry you through years of friendship, is that, after you get to know the person, and truly share some experiences, you always have the other person’s best interests at heart.
These relationships are very different from those of a spouse, significant other, sister or other family member. You will be told not only what you want to hear, but also what you may need to hear—and it always will be told with love! What could be better than that?
Just to tell you how fully I connected with your BFF piece. Well, I have a group of BFFs here in Sedona. Seven men who meet weekly at a Sedona happy-hour bar. We’ve been meeting now for ten years.
All were selected by the first two members (by me and my first friend here.) All retired professionals (except one) who had strong egos–had nothing to prove–and good listeners. Most are community activists. We exchange by email provocative local and national writings. We share problems and sometimes dig deeply into philosophical issues. (One of them sent your piece here to me.)
We call ourselves the Dungbeetles, a good metaphoric name. We all have spouses and we share with them a dinner together several times a year.
I initiated all this because men don’t do this sort of thing as spontaneously as woman, and it seemed like a retired professor should be the one to do this, as managing groups was an acquired skill.
All this reminds me that we have much in common–as I reflect on our idea about Big Park Academy for Advanced Learning. Which is still finding its way.
Hope to see you again soon. I treasure our lunch together.