How to Find People Who Can Scaffold You

Scaffolding isn't just a term for buildings or small children.

As I teach my students about child development and all of the vocabulary words, I realize how important it is to share these words in our everyday language. Scaffolding is one of those terms. We usually compare it to roof shingles or buildings, the layering or stacking of pieces to help build the entire project. Children need scaffolding to help them navigate the world. Vygotsky developed our understanding of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development. As we learn new things, like tying our shoes or riding a bike, we are scaffolded by adults. Parents and teachers don't just say, "Ride your bike!" They show us how. They give us training wheels and stand nearby in the beginning. The examples of scaffolding in our childhood years are endless.

But we all need scaffolding and help throughout our lifespan.

Right now I am in a place where I am learning from so many people around me in this online world of sharing knowledge. Their insights and inspiration keep me motivated and continue my development as a professional. It is through the scaffolding process that I grow. When I want to learn more about any topic, I usually try to find someone who just learned about it themselves.

Often I find myself encouraging my students to reach out to other people in their classes for advice. Or I recommend contacting an alum who is currently working in the very same job the student wants to work at some day. I can give advice and provide some scaffolding, but who better to help scaffold than someone living the future they want?

There are hundreds of people out there, just like you.

Almost every day I tell someone, "You are not alone." This phrase connects us to each other and reminds us that somewhere - someone else is going through the same struggles, triumphs, and experiences. We just have to find them. Sure, finding friends is one thing. Relying on our family is also helpful. But finding people outside of our immediate zone? That seems tricky and almost scary. What if you reach out to someone and they dismiss you? What if you never hear back? What if they say no?

The benefits of reaching out almost always outweigh the negatives.

Here's where I say, "It couldn't hurt to try." Want to ask that professional about their job? What's the worst that could happen? They could say no? Is that really that bad? People usually want to help you. Out of the hundreds of people I have contacted over the years, I don't think anyone has ever told me a flat out "no" to a question. Sure, sometimes they don't reply. Probably because they are really busy or have other things going on. But people usually want to share their own experiences and help others just like them. So go into it with a positive attitude and know that it is worth a shot. Marie Forleo has some great advice about finding a mentor and what types of questions to ask.

I recommend starting with a simple question.

Often when I help students or clients reach out to people, they want to ask a dozen questions at once. But trust me, a really long email with a dozen questions is often overwhelming to the receiver. Start with a simple question. Do your homework online first - don't ask ,"Where did you go to college?" if it is right there on their easy to find Linkedin Profile. But maybe ask, "What helped with your decision to attend the University of Such and Such?" Provide an introduction about yourself and why you might be asking the one, simple question. That helps provide some context for the person, especially if you do not know them at all. That will get the conversation started and it can blossom from there.

Find people at a variety of stages around you.

Think about who is two steps ahead of you and who is four steps ahead of you. Often it is easy to find people who are WAY ahead of us, admire them from afar, and secretly wonder how they do it. Those people are usually famous and have thousands of people surrounding them. That's great inspiration, but we're talking about scaffolding here. Someone who can help you with your next steps, within your own zone of proximal development. So you want to work for a particular organization? Instead of reaching out to the CEO, why not find an employee who just started working there? And someone who has been there for a few years? 

Are you a university student? It is great to talk to your college friends and parents about your next steps. But what about someone who just graduated from your university? What is their life like? What do they wish they had known when they were at your level? Where do they want to be in five years?

The other benefit to scaffolding is being able to scaffold others.

Finding people ahead of you helps scaffold your development. But I also love to connect with people who are in a zone I just exited. For example, I've been blogging for several months now. Maybe there's another professor out there who needs some scaffolding on how to make their own blog. I'm just a few steps ahead of them. And helping them reminds me how far I have come in my own progress. Helping others is a great source of satisfaction. It helps us humans feel connected!

So who can be "in your tribe" of scaffolders?

Who do you want to reach out to? Can they become part of your crew or "tribe?" You can learn from each other and keep building each other up - scaffolding along the way of development. I would love to hear about your own experiences with scaffolding, so post below in the comments!