I heard a quip from someone years ago long before I read about Commonplacing so, unfortunately, I cannot give them credit. I vaguely remember the context as I was complaining to an older and far wiser friend about friendship woes. I wasn’t sure what I should do about a certain friend in my life that was causing me distress. “Well, why do you keep hanging out with them?” What a silly question! Because they’re my friend and I’m loyal. I don’t just ditch my friends. Once you have me in your corner I’m there for life. The bombshell came next. A few simple words that, once again like so many other times in life, provided perspective. “Not everyone has to be a forever friend.”
I’ve written about my teenage and young adult friendships before. I was constantly surrounded by people that made sure to keep everyone “grounded” at all times. Regardless of the accomplishment, accolades were few and far between. Nobody was ever celebrated save for a pat on the back. When you had an idea to chase something you were asked “why” or informed that someone else had already done that. It took about 30 years for me to decide that not everyone needed to be a forever friend. This didn’t mean I harshly cut these people out of my life, it just meant I chose to place my emotional capital in other people
I now spend time being more reflective of who I choose to surround myself with. More mindful of what those people are adding to my life and what I bring to theirs. There isn’t a checklist you have to score an 82% on if you want to be in my life, but there is more thought put into my friendships at this point. Your time is one of the few things that is truly yours; why would you willingly give your time to someone who doesn’t value it or you?
When I’m reflecting on said friendships, the following quotes help me maintain my perspective on what’s important to me.
Oddly enough, this is a lesson I learned from going to the gym. I met so many people that had nothing in common with me aside from the desire to lift heavy things and get a bit healthier. Every day issues were left at the door and we all just wanted to see each other lift heavy objects. This was my first taste of being surrounded by people who lifted me up. They weren’t telling me my endeavors were stupid or that there was always someone better. They just wanted me to do my best and they were there to help. They didn’t bring up work, friendships, girlfriends or boyfriends or other issues. We were all there to lift each other up and help each other out. I’m sure Epictetus would be rolling in his grave if he knew his wisdom finally made sense to me in a gym full of sweaty people, but hey, when inspiration hits it hits.
This was the first thing I heard that made me sit back and think about the people I was surrounding myself with. Kevin Smith is known as, in his words, someone who can “wax poetic” on this subject, and for good reason. He’s hit the nail on the head, and this will more or less just be a paraphrase of everything he’s already said and shared a multitude of times.
When you have a crazy idea and want to chase a dream and you’re surrounded by people who constantly ask you “why,” you are surrounding yourself with doubt. When we have only one life to live (as far as I know) why not chase whimsies, hopes, dreams, and wishes? When you say “I want to write a book” and your friend says “why not man, go for it.” You are given just a small push to go after that dream. The more “why not” people you have around you the more of those pushes you get. As Kevin Smith has said repeatedly, it costs us nothing to encourage someone to create art or follow their dream, and by doing so you might even be the recipient of something you never expected, simply by saying two words; “why not?”
As a budding stoic and neophyte philosopher, I’m always at odds with my understanding of the greats, but Cicero’s words have stuck with me when thinking of friendships. Finding that agreement of all things divine and human is difficult, but you can start by expanding your circle and allowing people in who don’t fit your “mold” at first glance. By starting the practice of finding common ground with any person I’m interacting with, I’m able to find the path to friendship a bit easier. Instead of focusing on our differences I pick their brain about our common interest and seeing what I can learn from them. If the interest is reciprocated, I share what I know and hopefully they too, in turn, learn.
Friendships are hard but they are a cornerstone of our lives. As Marcus Aurelius is known for saying, we are social creatures. Although, what I’ve been able to learn from experience and the greats is that not all friends need to be friends forever. Whenever I start to feel the tinge of someone not adding something to my life, I stop and reflect. What is my part in this, what is my fingerprint on this situation, how am I adding or taking away from this person’s life? If I find that we aren’t having a positive impact on each other and are simply friends because we once had a great connection, I am okay separating myself from that situation. Why stay in a place that doesn’t add anything to my life?