How to Be the Best Possible Friend—to Your Squad *and* Yourself—according to Cleo Wade

The Heart Talk author and Instagram poet has been called “the Millennial Oprah,” so who better to ask?

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(Photo: Getty Images)

Considering she has 340k Instagram followers and counting, Cleo Wade insists there’s less of a line between her IRL friends and her digital ones than you’d think. “I have so many friends I’ve made online who I communicate with via Instagram DM,” says the poet, activist, artist and author (phew) when we chat over the phone. “The thing about people who find your work on social platforms is that yes, you do have this incredible gift of being part of their lives, but they’re part of your life too. I really do see them and hear them.”

Wade uses social media to motivate and inspire her followers. She’s known to share mantras, affirmations and poetry, along with the occasional snap of one of her chic celebrity friends. If her Instagram is any indication, Wade’s envy-inducing circle includes Yara Shahidi, Katy Perry, Elaine WelterothGloria Steinem and Diane von Furstenberg. (On DVF, Wade says: “I’m pretty sure when I met her I was like, ‘I feel like you’re my mom.’” OK, we’re officially jealous.) But the activist and speaker—whose TED Talk on using kindness to change the world has been viewed more than a million times—consistently makes her followers feel like part of her crew. Her ability to dole out inspiration and advice in a way that sounds both calming and like #realtalk has earned her comparisons to another woman we all love to believe is part of our families: Oprah freakin’ Winfrey. She was first likened to the TV icon by New York Magazine, and is still over-the-moon about it. “She is just everything,” says Wade. “I have such a huge amount of gratitude that anyone would ever think that about me.”

Now she’s focused on a new medium. Just like she does online, Wade makes sure to establish the BFF status between herself and her readers early in her first book, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life ($23, Simon & Schuster Canada). She writes: “You are my tribe, and I am yours,” at the start of the poetry-collection-meets-self-help-guide. There are underlined passages and hand-written notes too, which Wade hopes encourage readers to add their own. “I really want you to rip pages out, write and scribble in them,” she says. In Heart Talk, she looks at friendships from all angles, from attracting people who will raise you up no matter what, to friend breakups and the work required to maintain close relationships. That’s why on International Women’s Day, we turned to the uplifting author to learn the keys to creating more fulfilling friendships and nurturing the most important relationship you’ll ever have—the one you have with yourself.

Engage in active listening 

“I think that you can’t really be a great writer unless you’re a great listener,” says Wade. “So much of that practical wisdom in the book comes from spending time compassionately listening to my friends.” Besides hosting sleepovers with her squad where they talk it all out, Wade’s also the one her friends turn to if they’re stuck with a tough choice to make. “I’m a good decision-maker. I just really like to keep it moving.”

Look in the mirror—and be kind to that reflection 

According to Wade, making connections begins with self-reflection. “How you talk to your best girlfriend often has so much to do with how you’re talking to yourself,” she says. “I think that having the practice of speaking positively to yourself and not staying in spaces of insecurity helps us infinitely to provide that same kind of support for others. Once we can experience it within, we can master it in our outward relationships.”

Get real with yourself 

Being honest with yourself isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step to knowing who you really are and, in turn, finding your circle. “In order to truly get to know yourself you have to ask some really hard questions,” says Wade. “A lot of us feel safe trying to stay who we are in a very rigid way without really embodying the spirit of flexibility. If you can find the bravery to embark on that journey of self-exploration and send love to the painful places, I think that that creates radical change.”

Choose your mantra

Just because you’ve been friends since grade school doesn’t mean you should still be bottling up the emotions about the things that bugged you during recess. According to Wade, there’s a mantra to help you cope with that—and it’s up to you to craft in order to guide your thoughts in positive directions. “Mantras are the easiest tool that everyone’s capable of using. I have different mantras for different things—for before I speak publicly, when I have severe anxiety, or when I find myself in a space of jealousy or competition. I think that mantras help us steer our thoughts in a way that can serve us.”

Practice self-care any damn way you please

At a time when self-care has come to mean everything from making healthy eating choices to staying in when you feel like it (#JOMO), Wade wants us to know it’s not just something you do here and there, but something you practice. “Pause along the way and say, ‘If I’ve said things in this relationship, is that how I show care for myself?’ I think that it’s something we have to actively apply to every role in our lives.” Plus, it’s no one’s job to define what self-care looks like. “It seems to have become its own brand nowadays. Like, ‘[Practice] self-care, go to yoga!’ You might not like yoga. Your self-care might be drinking too much wine and dancing with your girlfriends.” You heard it here!

Team up with other women 

“I’m so inspired by the women in the world who wear all of the hats that they want to wear, whether that’s boss, entrepreneur, mother, wife, best friend—and they’re able to do it with such incredible kindness,” says Wade. She counts DVF among these women and says that the designer sets an example by treating her colleagues like sisters. “Historically, people have said don’t work with your friends. But that’s the opposite with me, I only work with my friends,” says Wade. Her latest collab? A t-shirt called the Accountabilitee, a partnership between Wade and New York cool-girl brand La Ligne, with every penny of its sales going to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Walk away from toxic friendships

“I definitely have friends who are way more traumatized by a breakup they’ve had with another friend than they are with ex-lovers,” says Wade. Ultimately, she says that the difficult decision to part ways should come down to “loving yourself enough to know when it’s time to release things in your life that aren’t making it possible for you to show love for yourself.” Any rough patch with a friend can be tricky—perhaps even more so when it’s all over the internet. So what’s with the persistence of news stories about women who don’t get along? “I think it’s because men are responsible for creating that storyline,” says Wade. “The more than women are directing, writing, creating and covering that content, from a really conscious space of the actual progress of the feminist movement, then I think that those stories will be told less and less.”

Be open to viewpoints that differ from your own 

You and your friends might have different opinions when it comes to the political issues and movements making headlines, but Wade says the key is to be open to hearing everyone’s point of view. “It’s not really possible to talk about anything with anyone if all parties involved don’t feel capable [of listening]. Again, I think that it’s about applying the spirit of flexibility. It doesn’t mean that you don’t stand for what you believe in, but it does leave some space for you to think about something differently.”

Focus on friends over follower count

Instagram scrolling doesn’t have to lead to an anxiety-induced tailspin. “Social media can be used as a tool or a weapon,” says Wade, who posts messages like “Self-love: It costs nothing and you gain everything” on the platform. “I make it a point to always intentionally use it as a tool. I use it to root for my friends and check in on them when I’m on the road and not able to spend physical time with them. It’s very easy for it to become a toxic place, but only if that’s the choice you make.”

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