Young adulthood is a time for making friends. It’s also a time for losing them.
As a child, you never really pick your friends. Fate picks them for you based on where you live, what school you go to, and whether or not you can throw a football. For most, “childhood” extends into college and beyond.
One of the perks of adulthood is that you get to choose your friends. Since who you spend time with is ultimately one of the core determinants of the person you become, it’s an important perk to take advantage of.
Do you want to spend the rest of your life in the same town, working for the same company? You can do it. Start a bowling team with high school buddies who won’t torment you with stressful challenges to dream bigger.
Do you want to slavishly climb the corporate ladder? Network with others on the same track as you, whether they’re at your level, a little ahead, or a little behind. It’s probably a better investment of your time than anything you do at your desk.
But once you have goals and a life plan that are unconventional, finding a like-minded peer group is more difficult. If you want to play in the NHL, compose a platinum album, or write a best-seller, you’ll have to say “Hi, I’m ____” to a lot of people before you meet someone else who thinks like you, and who has the ability and work ethic to follow through. Judged by their actions rather than their thoughts and words, the vast majority of people are average and will remain so for their entire lives.
I want friends who teach, inspire and encourage me. I also want friends who look for the same from me. In some friendships, one person – a mentor - does significantly more of the teaching than the other – a protege. Most of what I know in life, I’ve learned from watching people more successful than I am. And here’s an open secret: Successful people trip over themselves to help out a rookie with potential.
So does this mean I’m trying to find more ambitious, more inspiring replacements for my current friends? Not at all.
When I meet a fun, interesting person who’s starting a business similar to (but not competing against) my own and writing a blog about it, I want to have lunch with him. I want to share ideas, laugh at each other’s missteps, and subconsciously convince ourselves that what we’re doing is not weird.
But will I call him when I come home from work and my wife has changed the locks and filed a restraining order? When I’m out of money and need a meal and a place to stay?* Probably not.
There are some things in life that you need real friends for. Friends that fate made for you in your childhood, and have stuck around since. It’s not impossible for adult friendships to take on the closeness and permanency that characterizes decades-old childhood friendships. But it’s tough.
Fortunately, we all have a lot of childhood friends. High school, undergrad, and our first grown-up jobs: Each brings a fresh set of 10+ friends. As you mature, you’ll naturally gravitate and grow closer to the ones you identify with.Most of the time, anyways. If you have four best friends working alongside you to conquer the world, having a fifth who just wants to sell TVs and smoke weed won’t kill you, especially if he’s the only one who would help you bury a body some day. At least, he’ll get you a deal on a flatscreen.
My circle of friends has some remarkable people, and many of them are doing various sorts of weird, awesome things with their lives. There’s a budding hip-hop star. A few globetrotters. A pirate. A few trying to escape the 9-5 grind and pre-set life of complacency and routines. There are even some who are fully embracing the conventional life path of career and family, and believe it or not, I have the utmost respect for them.
The important thing is that each adds something of value.
What are your friends adding to your life? Do they suck? Get new ones. Are they great, but stagnant? Hold onto them, but find a new peer group to inspire you.
Lucky bastard that I am, I’ve spent the past decade watching the friends I made as a child – at school, camp, and college - grow into some incredible people. If you’re similarly blessed, good for you. If not, it’s probably one of the biggest factors holding you back in life. Fix it.
*Neither of these is realistic since I will never cohabitate let alone get married, and welfare seems to be generous enough for cigarettes, booze and cable TV. But you get the idea.