Why You Need Your Own "Advisory Committee"


A few years ago, I read in one of Gretchen Rubin’s marvellous books that she keeps a list of her “Patron Saints” (people who deeply inspire or guide her life or work in some way). These aren’t her family, friends, or colleagues, but rather people – living or dead, or even fictional – whom she could think of for theoretical advice and who could help guide her path. I, of course, became totally obsessed with this, and have kept my own list ever since. It’s changed over time, depending on what I was up to (and whether anyone on the list had fallen out of my good graces), but I love my list all the same.

Which brings me to this morning. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where to go with several projects, and this was leading to a bit of an existential crisis. Is my work important? What if people hate what I’m doing? What AM I even doing?!

While ruminating (always so counter-productive), I popped open Twitter to do my daily review and retweets. In doing so, I stumbled upon a tweet congratulating one of my Patron Saints, legendary art critic and all around delightful human Jerry Saltz, for a particular contribution to the field. I thought to myself, “oh Jerry, you would know what I should do next.”

What happened next, dear friends, I am strongly encouraging you to replicate for yourselves.

I thought to myself, I’m going to write my list fresh, no looking at past iterations, and see who would make my Patron Saint list right now. Whose council do I need?

I don’t know about you, but I always know I’m onto something when my handwriting gets confident, clear, and stylish. My pen flew across my notebook page in deft swoops and strikes, evenly spacing out 12 names like they were seated in three beautiful rows, staring back at me.

I threw open my desk drawer and amassed four coloured sticky notes, stacking them and cutting into thirds to produce twelve equal little tabs. I scrawled the twelve names again, one per rainbow chip, and hung them from my computer monitor before me, like a little row of Supreme Court justices looking down at me.

I’ve decided to name them: The Advisory Committee.

My Advisory Committee is quite a random mix. There are some very interesting sub-groupings, but before I dive into the trends, here’s the list as it emerged from my brain, and as it now appears in the spectrum of partial post-its before me:

Jerry Saltz, Art Critic, Journalist

Samin Nosrat, Chef, Author, TV host

Gabby Bernstein, Author and Motivational Speaker

Debbie Millman, Designer, Author, and Podcaster

Paula Scher, Designer and Painter

Questlove, Drummer, DJ, Author

Gordon Ramsay, Chef, TV host, Author

Tim Ferriss, Investor, Author, Podcaster

Gretchen Rubin, Author, Blogger, Podcaster

Jenna Kutcher, Photographer, Podcaster, Instructor

Jessica Hische, Artist, Designer

Wynton Marsalis, Musician, Arts Advocate

As you can see, there are lots of artists of different kinds in my Advisory Committee. There are several people who we might call “creatives.” There are lots of big personalities, but also a couple of introverts. Nearly everyone on the list is multi-passionate, with many different endeavours and pursuits filling their resumes.

There is also a really interesting mix of people who are business-minded (Jenna, Tim, Gordon) with people who might be more “soul-minded” (Jessica, Wynton, Samin). There are people whose passion has turned into their business (Questlove, Debbie, Jerry) and those who perhaps focussed on the business more the whole time (Tim, Gabby, Jenna). There are people who might tell me that my own standards are everything (Paula, Jerry, Wynton) and those who might say to think more about what my audience wants (Jenna, Tim, Gordon).

Obviously, this is all conjecture – these are multi-faceted humans who are just as complicated as you and I, and I am making WILD assumptions about them. But what matters for this exercise isn’t who they actually are, but who I think of them as. Who they are to me.

Having been trained as a lawyer, I was tempted to think of my newly enunciated buddies as a Supreme Court, as I mentioned, but that’s just not how I see them. They’re not here to rule and make absolute decisions. Instead, I tapped into my background in working with boards, and thought about the power of a well-formed advisory committee. One where exactly the right people were appointed – where diverse points of view, unique backgrounds, and differences of opinion lead to really healthy and fruitful discussion. These types of committees, in the real world, give well-reasoned input to the actual decision-maker which, for me, is my Intuition. They’re a little bit like twelve WWJD bracelets I can look at throughout the day and think, “ya, what would Questlove do?” As Tim would say, they’re my Tribe of Mentors. They would all have my back, they would just give me different advice along the way.

Really, they’re twelve facets of myself. Twelve mirrors to look in that give me a slightly different vantage point. Twelve filters to swipe through to see what combination feels really right, right now.

Now, when I have a challenge or fork in the road, I’m going to visualize a chamber of discussion with my very own dozen Advisors. I’ll imagine proposing a new business venture, and Tim being really behind it, but Wynton asking me about whether it fits with my overall mission. Then I’ll hear Samin pop up and ask if it will be fun, and then Gretchen will high-five her. Basically, it’s gonna be a riot, and obviously – more importantly – I think it’s going to be incredibly helpful.

So, of course, my question to you is: who would be on your Advisory Committee? And what would you call your very own little group of Patron Saints, standing by to help guide you? Tell me in the comments, head over to Instagram and comment on the pic I’ve put up on the subject, or tweet me. I hope you delight in the process as much as I did!