The Three Most Important People In Your Life


Sometimes (not often, but sometimes), I miss the typical 9-5 in-office work life. I woke up this morning wondering why that is and settled on an answer.

People who say they miss the office environment rarely know what they miss. What I miss has nothing to do with hallway conversations, water cooler talk, or whatever answers some managers put forth.

I miss being around people who can help me turn my challenges into accomplishments.1

And this made me consider the three roles people seemingly fill in our lives. I break them down here into what we seek out in people.

Seeking Reassurance

People often get this from friends or family but professional relationships can provide this level of support to some degree.

This can be as simple as having someone validate your emotional response (e.g., “Everyone struggles with that. That happened to me, too. You’re doing amazing.”)

Seeking Challenges

Challenging you is not the same as being confrontational. Instead, it’s about posing a problem, conveying its importance, and identifying you as the person to take it on.

This could involve someone seeing your expertise on a topic you don’t feel you are an expert on (yet). Or believing you can solve a problem you are passionate about but have never tackled.

Seeking Accomplishment

Sometimes, when we struggle with a problem, pushing through can be difficult. People who can help you turn a challenge into an accomplishment are worth their weight in gold. This could involve revisiting assumptions or coaching us out of a dead-end solution to a problem. This is not about hand-holding. This is about sharing a vision in the outcome, and how that outcome maps to your part in it.


  • As a child, parents often fill all three roles.
  • As we get older, we no longer rely solely on parents.
  • Some people need constant reassurance. Others, less.
  • Being challenged is not the goal. It’s the means.
  • Accomplishment is not the same as a successful outcome.

I am intrinsically motivated, which is another way of saying I have few problems seeking out challenges and taking them on. Not everyone is wired this way.

I’ve encountered managers incapable of managing intrinsically motivated people. These managers mistakenly assume their job is to challenge their reports and “remove obstacles.”

Removing obstacles is not the same as helping to turn challenges into accomplishments. It’s probably the lowest form of being helpful.2

  1. This is not to be confused with missing the “energy” of an office. I don’t even know what that means anymore. Instead, I am talking about key relationships with people who matter in a particular context. ↩︎

  2. I’ll save that topic for another day, but there’s a lot to unpack here related to the “hire rock stars and get out of their way” school of management and why I that’s not a way to manage an organization. ↩︎