Accountability Partners: They’re Not Just for Extreme Sports

Some years ago, I joined a group of women to go rock climbing in the Adirondack mountains of New York State. I’ve hiked and camped in that beautiful mountain range for years, and somewhere near Saranac Lake I discovered the incredible physical and mental challenge of using nothing more than my hands and feet to scale a vertical flat boulder.  It was scary—and exhilarating.

When my feet touched the ground after my climb, I unhitched my harness—and hugged my belayer, the woman who controlled the rope during my climb.  She’d been trained to give me the right amount of rope when I climbed and pull in any excess to keep me from long, dangerous falls.  When it was her turn to climb, I did the same thing.

Ten years ago, in graduate school, I was hard at work on my creative thesis.  While memoir writing wasn’t as physically dangerous as rock climbing, my procrastination, perfectionism, and fear were impeding my progress.  I remembered the buddy system from my rock-climbing days, and decided I needed a buddy—an accountability partner—to keep me on course with my thesis.  Rock climbing taught me a valuable lesson:  by making a promise to someone else, I develop a surefire way to stay on track toward reaching my goals.  I might slip, but like my belayer, my buddy would help me avoid catastrophe.  I would gain an objective perspective from someone whose wisdom I had come to trust.  I choose my friend and fellow freelance writer, Gretchen.  She was deep into writing her own book at the same time I was writing my creative thesis.

Find Your Accountability Partner

It works for rock climbing, it works for writing, and it can work in other areas of your life as well—like job searching.  So how do you get an accountability partner, and how does it work?  Here what I did:

  1. I found someone I respected deeply to hold me accountable, someone who won’t let me get away with excuses.  While family members are not always the best choice, a tough-minded friend, colleague, or business associate can be.  I chose well; Gretchen held my feet to the fire, and I returned the favor.
  2. I told my accountability partner what I needed to do at the beginning of every week and at the beginning of every day. Gretchen and I lived in different cities, so we communicated via email for the most part, but occasionally talked on the phone.  Once in a great while we’d get together face-to- face.
  3. I contacted my accountability partner each day, and once a week, and to report on my progress.
  4. I expected to give and receive nudging when I or my partner gets off track.

It’s a deceptively simple process, but guess what?  It works.  I finished my MFA, and have embarked on new writing adventures, which includes facilitating life reviews and guided autobiographies, career coaching and resume writing, marketing communications and short stories.  Gretchen wrote two books and completed her MFA as well.

How You Can Help Each Other Be Accountable

An accountability partner can help in all areas of your life. So, when I email my accountability partner each day, I break my goals down into several categories:

Health:  Includes a commitment to exercise and reminders about doctor’s appointments.

Creative Writing:  That’s any non-resume writing that I do, including this blog.

Work / Looking for work:  This covers any projects I’m currently involved in. It also means a commitment to keep networking and reaching out to new prospects and clients.

Spirituality:  I might be going to church or have a special meeting to attend.

Personal/household:  That covers everything from grocery shopping to birthday reminders.  Some days I’ll even remind myself to call a friend who needs extra support.

Accountability in Your Job Search

Work / looking for work is a biggy.  As a freelance writer, it’s crucial that I stay on top of current work, but when it’s done, I need to have other projects waiting in the wings.  That’s another area where my accountability partner—who’s also a freelance writer—comes in.  For example, we set goals for networking activities over the course of a week.  I try to attend at least one event every week – there are many virtual opportunities available – then make sure I follow up with a phone call to any new contacts.  I also try to stay in touch with clients I haven’t worked with in a while.

You can do the same thing with a traditional job search.  Set up some time to debrief with your partner about the previous week’s job search activities and lay out an action plan for the upcoming week.  You’ll both do a better job of staying on track.

The buddy system can also help with day-to-day job search activities.  If you’re working from home, as I do, temptations abound.  It’s waaaay too easy to procrastinate or get distracted by an overwhelming desire to surf the net or scrub the kitchen floor.  My solution?  I call my accountability partner and tell her what I need to get done for the day.  I commit to working on it, uninterrupted, for the next 45 minutes or so.  I even go so far as to set a timer, and when it goes off, I call my buddy back with a quick update.  If I need to, I repeat that process until my work is done.  Sometimes I just leave a voice mail.  The point is that, bit by bit, I’ve done what I committed to do.

It’s all important, however it’s also possible to over-do, working, job searching, and networking seven days a week.  I confess I’m one of the worst offenders.  Yet I know working day and night is ultimately counterproductive.  We all need time to relax and recharge, to attend to other areas of our lives.  That’s why my accountability partner and I have several categories of goals.  We want to stay in touch with the overall vision we both want for our lives, one of harmony and balance.

My R&R for the week? My husband and I are off to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary!


Holian Associates provides strategy, resources and coaching for every stage of your career. If you need help with job search strategy, career transition, resume creation, LinkedIn development, interview preparation,  professional strengths coaching, or navigating your job search as a college student or recent college grad, email us at or give us a call at (925) 451-3183.

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