What follows is a streamlined version of the Buddy System, Barbara Sher's technique of joining forces with a friend to meet both your goals. Whereas a Success Team typically has six members and meets once a week for two hours, the Buddy System allows you to use the same principles on a smaller scale.

1. Pick a Buddy
The person you pick can be your best friend, but she or he can also be someone you know casually from work or aerobics class. Some people are happiest working with a bosom friend; others find a close personal relationship too competitive or too cozy for business. Your buddy SHOULD be someone you respect and can count on to stick to a short-term commitment. She or he can be working in the same field as you (as two actresses I know who rehearse and brace each other for auditions), but it's at least as much fun if your goals are wildly different.

2. Weekly Business Meeting
Agree to meet with your "buddy" each week for at least one hour at a regular time. At first, this may seem like just one more demand on your poor schedule, but you'll find that the hour will immediately pay for itself in increased energy and efficiency. If it's too difficult to meet in person, you can do this by phone.

Each of you should keep one rule firmly in mind. For one hour, you're not going to talk about the great movie you saw last week, or the coming elections; you're going to stick to business. The temptation to socialize will be great. Use a timer, and resist it.

3. Pick a Goal

At your first meeting, each of you should set a first goal that seems reachable within three to eighteen months (depending on how long you're willing to commit yourself to work together), such as "get a raise," "make up a portfolio and slides and show art galleries," or "sell at least one of my needlepoint designs to a boutique." Pick a goal you really want, even if it seems improbable or scary - not something you feel lukewarm and safe about. Your desire to achieve the goal will be your chief energy source.

On the other hand, don't aim too high too soon. If you've never drawn a line in your life, "become a commercial artist" is too big a goal to shoot for; "enter and successfully complete a life drawing class" would be more like it.

4. Set Target Dates on a Pocket Calendar
You can always change the dates if they turn out to be unrealistic, but you have to have them or you'll procrastinate. The later of your two target dates is your joint target date. You'll agree to keep meeting until both your goals are met.

5. Plan Backward to the First Steps

Starting at your goal, plan backward ("Before I can go to medical school, I have to apply and get in; before I can do that I have to pass pre-med courses; before I can do that I have to find and enroll in a college that gives them at night"), until you arrive at something small and manageable that you can do within the coming week to set you on the path to your goal ("This week I will request catalogs from all the local colleges").

If you have a creative goal, such as writing a children's story, make your "first steps" small enough so that you'll do them. The point is to get moving. Carol, the head of personnel in a major department store, was confident in her job, but timid when it came to her lifelong dream of learning to paint. She doubted that she had enough talent and was reluctant even to try. Her buddy, Donna, a secretary and would-be city planner, cheerfully gave her her first week's assignment. "Bring in five bad drawings of your cat. And they'd better be bad!" The assignment got Carol laughing — and drawing. Enrolling in a class would come later.

6. Schedule First Steps for Specific Days and Times in the Coming Week
If either of you has something especially difficult to do, which you might be tempted to avoid, schedule a morale-booster call from your buddy for right beforehand. (You can call him or her back afterward and say, "I did it!") Booster calls should be limited to three minutes, out of respect for the value of each of your time frames. (In real emergencies, though, your buddy might be willing to come with you right to the interviewer's door, or sit in the next room working on his or her goal while you practice the cello.)

7. Think Through or Rehearse any Unfamiliar Things You'll Have to Do
How long will it take you to dress and get to the audition? What are you going to say in that phone call or job interview? "We often think we lack some mysterious thing called 'self-confidence,'" Barbara Sher says, "when the real problem is that we don't know what the hell we're doing." Advise each other on how to be informed and prepared. You'll find that you have more common sense for each other than you do for yourself.

Now you are both ready to go into action - promise to report the results to each other at the next meeting. You've just done something very important. You've created a structure of expectation outside yourself that will help keep you on track. As it's much easier to do something when you've got a boss, a teacher, or a deadline, your buddy is set up to expect you to do the things you want to do, but wouldn't do just for yourself.

8. Second Business Meeting (and All Subsequent Meetings): Remember, No Socializing Until Business is Over
Using a clock or timer, each of you gets half an hour. For the first five minutes, report on what you did (or didn't do) and what the results were; then talk about any problems you ran into, or ways you're stymied about what to do next. You may need to divide this problem-solving time into two parts:

Creative Planning: If you're discouraged, depressed or scared, you may not be able to solve practical problems until you get negative feelings out of the way. So if you need to, take ten minutes or less to gripe your heart out. Make it as mean, low-down, dirty, and even funny as you can. "I hate my goal. I'm going to give it all up and run away with the exterminator." During this time, your buddy should simply listen, or cheer you on — not try to cheer you up. When you feel better, you can move on...
Brainstorming: You and your buddy should now come up with as many inventive solutions to your problem(s) as you can, including outrageous ones. Don't censor. You can always weed out the "joke" ideas later — even they often contain the seeds of brilliant solutions. Legitimate subjects for brainstorming include: how to raise money; how to get inexpensive, or free, equipment, materials, or services; how to solve the problem of child care; and anything else you can think of.

Sara, a painter on a tight budget, who wished she could buy a house with lots of studio space, brainstormed with two friends, and they came up with these ideas:


Join forces with other artists to rent a big house.
Find a dilapidated house the city is selling cheap, and fix it up.
Enter all the sweepstakes that have a house as a prize
(joke idea - but some competitions do award property to whoever writes
the best essay sent in with a small entry fee).
Find a lonely, old person in a large house who needs a companion.
Offer to be a caretaker on someone's country property.

As it turned out, one of Sara's friends knew someone who had a house in the country. Sara's friend called the man, who said he already had a caretaker - but he had a neighbor in the country who traveled a lot, and who might let Sara live and paint in his house if she would take care of his dogs.

9. Schedule
Save the last five minutes of your half-hour to plan out and write in your calendar what you'll be doing the next week.

10. Expanding the Group
Once the "Buddy System" starts working, there's no reason you have to confine it to just the two of you. If two heads are better than one, how about more? (If you have more people, of course, you must limit their time to fifteen minutes or so.)

You might also try an Idea Party. Invite a group of friends, tell each one to bring pot luck and a problem she or he needs solved - and watch the sparks fly and the phone numbers change hands. You'll be well on your way to creating an exciting community of mutually supportive achievers.


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