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What Stephen King can teach us about having a cheerleader...

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the official newsletter of Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules. Each week, you’ll receive one story from the past, one study from the present, and one strategy for your future.

My goal: to give you—in the time it takes to finish on the toilet—one piece of practical career wisdom you can apply today, no matter if you’re a student or a seasoned professional.

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Did You Know? Someone believes in you, even if you don't!

A story from the past

It’s 1972. Stephen King, an English teacher and short story writer for men’s magazines, just locked himself and a typewriter into the laundry room of his family’s trailer. His goal? To write about a female character after one reader claimed: “You write all those macho things, but you can’t write about women.” 

King was frustrated. He’d taken on the challenge—but now struggled. So, three single-spaced pages in, King tossed his draft into the trash. Walking away, the voice in King’s head kept telling him: “I had written the world’s all-time loser.”

Then, Tabby, King’s wife, saw the crushed papers in the garbage can. She pulled the papers out of the trash, approached King, and said, “You’ve [really] got something here.” 

Uplifted by his wife’s encouragement, King revived and finished his draft. Despite 30 rejections from publishers, King’s book was finally sold and released in 1974—and by 1976, Carrie was a New York Times bestseller with a movie adaptation. Carrie’s dedication reads: “This is for Tabby, who got me into it—then got me out of it.”

So, the next time you find yourself thinking, “I can do everything on my own,” remember King, who, without the support of his wife, may not have ever become the “King of Horror.”

Stephen and Tabitha King and their children, 1979 (via the New York Times). Four of King's early works (L to R, clockwise): It (1986), The Shining (1977), Cujo (1981), and Carrie (1974).

A study of the present

King learned an important lesson: Life will give you both ups and downs—but whether you have more ups than downs has a lot to do with who you’re with. You need friends. Specifically, you need friends who are cheerleaders.

King’s lesson is backed by research. According to a review published in Frontiers earlier this year, friendships can…

  • Protect you against mental health difficulties (e.g., depression, anxiety, loneliness),
  • Predict your well-being later in life (e.g., who your friends are when you’re 30 could influence how happy you are when you’re 50) and,
  • Have the most positive influence on your well-being if they are, like King’s, both positive and supportive (i.e., offers emotional support).

Have a significant other? Here’s a study for you: Couples who consider each other their best friend experience double the life satisfaction of those who do not.

So what? Cherish those who believe in you. It’s good for you and good for them.

A strategy for your future

You don’t need someone who knows you well enough to rummage through your trash to benefit from the power of relationships. You simply need to know someone loosely. Research shows that people with “weak” ties, such as the work acquaintance you say “hi” to here and there, are happier than those without “weak” ties. Researchers call it “the strength of weak ties.”

Building—and deepening—relationships at work is easier than you think! Try this:

(1) Chatting with someone for a second time? Recall something they shared previously by saying, “Did you mention the other day that _____? How did it go?”

(2) Come across something relevant to someone you know? Share what you found by saying, “I saw this ______ the other day and it made me think of you given our conversation about  ______. Hope you’re doing well!”

Making friends isn’t an easy task, especially since friendship has been on the decline for several decades. But the good news is that even one positive relationship can make a difference in your well-being—and possibly, like King, even in your career and life. Just make sure you maintain it!

I know it because I’ve experienced it: If I hadn’t stayed in touch with my high school mentor Colin, I would have never gotten introduced to my first internship. I’m proud to say we’re still friends today!

Keep saying “hi”!