Jane Austen was a mere twenty-one years old when she penned her most beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice. When we read just a few lines of the masterful dialogue, concise description, and gripping story, our own creative abilities can seem pitiful in comparison.
We tend to imagine that Jane Austen was born knowing how to read, never spoke an incomplete sentence, and dictated stories from her crib until her infant fingers had the dexterity necessary to hold a quill pen. Of course, we know that isn't true. Jane, like all writers, learned much from others. In fact, she read all of her novels aloud to her family as she composed them, receiving criticism and praise that strengthened her stories and lightened the burden of writing.
While we do not live in a society where listening to novels is common entertainment, we can try to create the career-nurturing atmosphere Jane had around her by developing a “mastermind”—a group whose purpose is to help the members achieve a similar goal, creative or otherwise.
Determine your goal
For some, like Jane who wrote stories from the time she was twelve, this will be simple and natural. You too may have a clear goal in mind like writing a novel, getting a promotion, balancing working from home while raising a family, or starting a company. If nothing concrete comes to mind, consider reflecting on your career goals to determine what next step you really want to take. And, if this process of reflection proves challenging, consider starting a group precisely to help with this process—there are plenty of people in your shoes!
Choose your members
This is probably the trickiest step, and Jane doesn’t provide a clear example since she never really chose her sister and family as literary helpers. Further, many of them were not really aiming as high as she was, which is key for a successful mastermind group. On the other hand, Jane did rely heavily on her sister and closest confidante Cassandra, from which we can deduce that forming a mastermind group among peers is advisable. Can you have a coed mastermind group? Sure, but it should be approached with caution since coed friendships can be more complicated than we think.
Structure your group
Do you meet weekly, biweekly, monthly? Do you even meet in person? There’s no perfect answer here and a lot will depend on how serious you are about your goals. Since body language is such an important form of communication, meeting in person is best, especially when a group is just starting out and deep bonds have yet to form. Jane and Cassandra lived together for all of Jane’s life, and while you may think that meeting with your group isn’t necessary in the Internet age, offering constructive criticism via email can be dangerous. It's much easier to sound compassionate in person, so when you tell your group member that she should throw out her sweater because it screams “conservative finance” and she’s transitioning to “trendy start-up," she'll know you said it with love.
With your mastermind in place, you’ll begin to give and receive timely feedback, opportune advice, and thoughtful encouragement—the very same ingredients that propelled Jane Austen from aspiring author to literary giant—to aspire toward and achieve your career goals.