Leaving education and starting your career can be scary, but you’ll always get by with a little help from your friends…

One of the biggest shifts in our lives happens when we leave the safety of education and branch out into the working world. And whether you’re starting your first job after school or taking on the challenge post-college, it can be a stressful time. But it doesn’t have to be.

Indeed, there’s one aspect of my life that always makes me feel incredibly privileged: my friendship group. One of my best friends is one of the Army’s last fixed-wing pilots. Another is the founder and CEO of one of the most successful veteran-owned companies in the fitness industry, providing soldiers and veterans around the world with supplementation, equipment and training. I also have close friends who are high-performing athletes, surgeons and professors of psychology, to name a few.

Now, I’m not a massively likeable guy. In fact, I’m actually quite moody. Don’t talk to me before I’ve had a coffee (that’s not because I’m only manageable once I’m under the influence of caffeine; it’s because you’re not manageable until I’m under the influence of caffeine). That said, I’m doing lots of personal development work to stop myself making ego-driven decisions, because I recognise the importance of friendship, as well as the importance of facing change, adversity, difficulties and struggles with other people who are also experiencing the same challenges.

You can’t fight nature…

Fundamentally, we’re all designed to run with a tribe, to hunt sabre-toothed tigers and dance around a fire. The age-old expression “It takes a village to raise a child” is exactly how we’re meant to be. We’re designed to grow together, to support each other and to navigate the experiences of this tumultuous world together.

We’re losing that a little in modern life. Families, alienated by relationship complications, are forced into difficult situations by overwhelmingly expensive housing, and the internet is encroaching on our authentic connections with one another.

But our chosen tribes are here to help. If you’re facing impending ejection from study into work, for example, you’ll need to support each other more than ever. In the Army, we would refer to this as a “buddy-buddy” check, whether it’s the fitting of a leg strap on a parachute (a serious check) or how tight is too tight when selecting a T-shirt to wear on a night out (a very serious check).

The point was always to generate confidence. It was all about knowing that your equipment, skills and drills were all correct, that you had someone there to support you, that you could manage, that you were not alone and that you had a tribe.

Embrace the unknown

I could now explain the neuroscience of this, the flooding of oxytocin that occurs in the brain, forcing us to “pair-bond” with other people like us, and how we’ve evolved to build relationships that help us manage fear, but I’ll keep this short and (hopefully) less boring.

Change is scary. We fear it. Our emotional centre, the amygdala, encourages the spread of stress hormones to our hypothalamus (the central nervous system’s signalling equipment), resulting in a physiological response from the sympathetic nervous system (butterflies in the stomach, a rush of adrenaline, heart palpitations).
That’s tough to manage. However, friendship and support release dopamine and oxytocin, and working together to manage fear and stress builds our identity and purpose.

What I’m saying is this: you are not alone. The start of a new chapter in your life is bound to be stressful, so rather than lying awake at night pondering what could be, be proactive in your friendships. You’ll soon realise that others are feeling the same way. Unite and conquer with those people. You’re stronger together.

James Elliott is a military mental resilience coach

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