Our friendships can either nurture or utterly destroy us.
I personally think that if your friendships aren’t doing the former or the latter, then they need serious reassessment.
There should be no room in anyone's life for mediocre or lukewarm friendships or relationships.
If you subscribe to this thinking, then it will certainly force you to be deliberate about your friendships.
Human beings are relational creatures. We always long to be with or get to know other people.
This is a good thing and is necessary as we all search for connection and meaning in life.
However, I think balance is extremely important when it comes to friendships.
I remember growing up and relying a great deal on my friends for key decisions.
In fact, at one point, I couldn’t make a decision without running it through X or Y. This not only brought on a lack of confidence but also meant I lacked my own convictions.
Why Are Friendships So important?
This question might seem like a no-brainer, however, it helps to improve our self-awareness if it’s a question we ask ourselves often.
Below are some immediate thoughts:
1. Personal Development
One of my favourite proverbs says:
[yellowbar]As Iron Sharpens Iron, so one person sharpens another.[/yellowbar]
This is right at the top in terms of what I value in friendships. In the past, I had friends that I had inherited from secondary school and university etc.
As much as I love these people very much, I deliberately choose not to spend alot of my time with quite alot of them.
You probably think that’s nuts but the truth is, some friends want you to remain mediocre just like them.
I personally assess my friendships very carefully. In fact, I do a “friends audit” every 6-12 months.
If I learn nothing from a friend and don’t feel like they support my growth as a human being, I slow down my engagement with them.
They don’t stop being friends ofcourse. They simply rank lower in my time priority.
In the same way, you probably want like-minded, encouraging and positive individuals around you.
The trick is to actually do something about it! Put yourself in the environment that creates the outcome you want.
The saying “show me your friends and I will show you your future” exists for a reason.
Seeking counsel from friends is extremely important, but this could come at a price too.
Not all friends are interested in your success, therefore it’s important to seek counsel from people you trust.
Even more important, is the need for you to assess the counsel you have received from friends and make your final decision.
Having that confidence and conviction is extremely important, otherwise, you’ll constantly get torn by conflicting bits of advice from friends.
Whenever I seek counsel from friends on something pretty deep, I often sleep on their thoughts coupled with prayer. This has always led me to what to do next.
It's hard enough finding meaning in day to day life.
Strong and positive friendships help us explore and enjoy life, giving us the opportunity to ask life’s big questions.
Nothing beats chilling with a friend and being totally real about your shortcomings, fears or concerns.
I did this the other day with my brother-in-law over a game watching Arsenal live as they actually won a game.
What was significant here was the moment. To share in an environment of trust.
I can think of key events in my life and how special they felt because I had good friends in attendance.
These include getting married, having a child, celebrating a milestone age, getting a significant promotion or a business win
Having friends who can be there for you genuinely at these times should not be taken for granted.
5. Dark Times
In the same way, we hope to have friends who celebrate with us, having those who can cry with us in our dark times is a massive gift.
I can think of moments when I felt like I had failed at something and was in desperate need of someone to purely just listen.
I can also think of the exact friends that have been there in those dark times.
They're a handful and I remain eternally grateful for having them as friends.
6. Open Doors
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of good friendships are the possible opportunities they can lead to.
The other day, an old school friend took it upon himself to give me and my blog a shout out on national radio after reading my post called How Much Money Is Enough?
In fact, he based an entire radio show on it and wrote to tell me he was doing this.
There was absolutely no reason why he needed to do this, however, this simple act sets him extremely high in my books as a result.
Reciprocity is an interesting principle as giving in a non-self serving way always leads to receiving.
Although happy times can be enjoyed alone, having people we can share happy moments with also serves to enhance the joy we experience cultivating our friendships.
Such interactions are good for our emotional states of mind and should be repeated as often as possible.
When last did you share a meal with a friend purely for the sake of being happy in that moment? If you haven’t done this lately, I highly recommend taking time out to do it.
Challenges to Friendships
1. Time and the digital age
I don’t know about you, but I find that I am more distracted than ever before, thanks to WhatsApp and social media.
[redbar]In fact, the digital age is forcing our friendships to become a lot more impersonal. We prefer to use emojis rather than show true emotion.[/redbar]
We’re spending alot more time watching all sorts on our phones, and even when we meet up, our devices remain a steady distraction.
Time with friends is becoming more about quarterly and half-yearly meetings than weekly or even every other day catch-ups.
You’d think the access to technology means that we’re more connected. Truth is, we’ve never been more separated in our friendships.
Tied to the issue of time is how we communicate with friends.
I certainly have alot more friends and family contacting me by instant message than I have speaking to me on the phone.
Part of this is self-inflicted as I am perpetually busy, which in itself is a terrible thing and with real consequences.
It was part of my goals for the new year to improve my relationships and how I communicate. More on that later.
An experience with one of my longest serving friends taught me a big lesson recently.
I was trying to raise a seriously large sum of money to purchase a commercial building.
I started my fundraising efforts with friends and family and bizarrely, I reached out to this friend via WhatsApp.
Therein lies mistake number 1.
Given the deal pressure and the total focus on what I wanted to achieve, I forgot to pause and reflect on life from his perspective.
He had agreed to lend me a pretty large sum of money to support me on this deal. However, at some point in our WhatsApp communications, things fell apart.
He retracted his deal and I got very frustrated and felt let down by him because I relied on his offer.
We both said things we regret. I was alot more vocal and look back at it all in total shame.
Now here’s the really interesting thing about this exchange. He exhibited incredible maturity and said:
“On a positive note, this is our second argument in 11 years of friendship. So the next one might be in 5.5years :)”.
I quietly laughed. At that moment, although I didn’t admit it, I knew I had a friend for life.
Money can serve as a serious hindrance to friendship success if not handled well.
This experience alone has forced me to reassess what I bring to the table in all my friendships.
Get married definitely changes the dynamics of friendships we retain and those we let go.
When guys get married, they typically maintain mostly guy friends. Girls certainly do the same too and for good reason.
Trust certainly plays a big role here and genuine friendships between boys and girls should be maintained but conditional upon full transparency.
In my world, I maintain a number of female friendships, but they tend to be people Mary also knows and approves of.
Do you feel you've outgrown a number of friends the more successful you've become?
Success ofcourse means different things to different people, but it's usually quite clear when you're speaking a totally different language to your friends.
Success in our lives shouldn't cause division with friends but it certainly does.
Where you notice that your friends are relating to you adversely as a result of your perceived success, it's usually a sign that you either have terrible friends or you're changing as a result of your success.
Both are awful places to end up, with the former alot harder to accept because it's usually outside of our control.
How To Build Strong & Positive Friendships
My positive and negatives experiences of friendship have taught me alot and continue to.
Below are some thoughts on how to have success with friendships:
I have failed many times on this very point and learned the hard way. Friendships require alot of patience.
The less you assume about situations in your friendships the better.
Let life play out naturally and don’t force it. Your friends will love you more for it.
2. Make Time
Where your heart is is usually where you spend your resources such as money and time.
If you want to show people that you care about them, make time to see them.
Put a meetup in the diary and try to regularise it. Taking that initial step shows people you care and forces them to reciprocate.
I have done this many times, even as experiments, and they work a treat!
3. Plan and Be Deliberate
You’d be amazed how your friends will react if you not only remembered their birthday, but you called them and asked to take them out for lunch.
In our social media age, it has become the culture to simply text people of their birthday and leave it at that.
I see this a grand opportunity to make a really good impression with friendships I want to nurture.
Planning these things ahead and buying meaningful gifts all adds up to what makes our friendships genuine and rich.
Forgiveness is really for the person doing the forgiving and is a way of freeing us from unnecessary holdbacks in life.
It is a true demonstration of love and maturity, which everyone should practice wholeheartedly.
There are no half waypoints with forgiveness. It’s either you forgive or you don’t.
True friendships require forgiveness to function. Hold no grudges, focus on what today and tomorrow have to offer and don’t live in the past.
To conclude, our lives aren’t lived in vacuums. Strong, meaningful and positive friendships are necessary for enjoying and doing life well.
However, it goes both ways. If you want love, show love. If you want gifts, give gifts. Whatever it is you want out of a friendship, start by giving that thing away first and you’ll receive it too.
What friendship challenges have you had recently? Do you feel like you’re giving more than you are taking?