Finding Friends: What Kind of Friend Are You?
“Friends… they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.” —Henry David Thoreau
In our last lesson, we discussed common misconceptions about friendship, many of which are rooted in romanticized notions of fate or destiny. In today’s lesson, we’ll take the concept of putting effort into your friendships to the next level by asking, “What kind of friend are you?”
Mapping Your Vision, Being That Person
Take a moment to visualize your ideal circle (or circles) of friends and acquaintances:
• How big is your circle? Do you have one or two close friends, or perhaps a group of four or more? How about a wide, diverse circle of acquaintances and casual friends?
• What do you do? Maybe you picture hanging out with a couple of close friends every weekend, going on hikes, and Instagramming pictures of beautiful sunsets. Or maybe you’re passionate about social justice, working out, business, or art, and you’d like your friends to share some of those interests.
• Who has the time? How much free time will you have for friendships if you account for your career, studies, family time, and other obligations? Will you have a lot of downtimes to spend with friends, or do you envision having only a handful of hours each month?
• Picture the benefits. Finally, try to imagine yourself actually “doing life” with these friends. Imagine having a supportive network and see yourself as a pillar of that support. You are listened to, and you listen to others. Your needs are met, and you help to meet others’ needs. You tell the truth, and you hear it, even when it isn’t easy.
Try to imagine all of this in detail.
Got a clear picture? Good.
Now ask yourself, “Am I ready for all of this?”
Not, “Do I want this,” (because of course, you do!) but, “Am I ready?”
Chances are, you, like everyone else, have some work to do. As we’ve said in prior lessons, having an open, patient attitude toward others is an invaluable asset when it comes to finding and making friends. Listening skills are important, too. So is the ability to go with the flow, overlook faults, and communicate courageously. Let’s face it, we all have at least one area to improve, don’t we?
On top of that, maybe you’re envisioning activities and goals that are great — but you aren’t really working on them at the moment. Do you want to have friends with whom you can work out, go hiking, or pursue your business dreams? Think critically about your current day-to-day. Do you work out? Do you hike? Are you studying business?
If not, don’t wait around for a group of future friends to help you do those things. Instead, begin doing them now. Not only will you be cultivating great habits and a positive self-image, but you’ll also be improving your chances of making the kind of friends you want to have!
Want the Best for Your Friends (And Help Them Get It)
This point is simple but very meaningful. To be a good friend, you must care about your friends’ needs.
This can be complex. It’s more than being a yes-man and much more than making sympathetic noises if your friend is having a hard time.
Wanting the best for someone means that you’re willing to think about their life trajectory, in the same way, that you should be thinking about your own. It means that you cultivate curiosity about their perspective and aims. It means that you celebrate their successes. It also means that if you recognize areas where they can achieve more, or areas where they’re hurting themselves, then you speak up accordingly.
Sometimes this will be difficult. You have to be tactful, for instance, about telling your friend that their relationship with alcohol or drugs is hurting their future. Additionally, it’s hard to know if you’re crossing the line from constructive criticism to nagging. Nevertheless, a good friend will try to help their friends succeed and apologize when they get it wrong.
As you reflect on all of this, it is helpful to realize that some friendships will not last long. There will be times and situations that will make it impossible for you to be the right kind of friend for someone else. And unfortunately, there will be times when another person cannot be there for you in the way you need them to be.
For example, when someone becomes a parent, he or she may find that they have little free time for supportive get-togethers with a friend going through a breakup. On the contrary, the parent may need as much—or more—support themselves, as they cope with sleep loss, isolation, and stress a new baby can bring.
Does this mean that the friendship isn’t genuine? Definitely not. What it does mean is that the friendship will go through some changes due to life circumstances. That’s natural, even if it is painful.
Accept that the changes in a friendship aren’t necessarily bad, simply because they are difficult. Keeping an empathetic, open mind toward evolving friendships will help both parties weather the inevitable ups and downs in a healthy way.
As you begin to make friends, it is likely that your social circle will grow exponentially. Think about it: every friend you cultivate has a social circle with which you will begin to interact. This is incredibly valuable because some of the people you meet this way may be individuals you might not have met at all otherwise! In fact, through these seemingly weak connections, you may meet romantic partners, hear about job openings, and more!
Note: You can learn more about meeting people, levels of connection, and the “people funnel” in our course on networking, Building a Network for Success.
Task #1: Review the section Mapping Your Vision, Being That Person, and answer the following questions:
1. How big is your circle? Do you have one or two close friends, or perhaps a group of four or more? How about a wide, diverse circle of acquaintances and casual friends?
2. What do you do? Maybe you picture hanging out with a couple of close friends every weekend, going on hikes, and Instagramming pictures of beautiful sunsets.
3. Who has the time? How much free time will you have for friendships if you account for your career, studies, family time, and other obligations? Will you have a lot of downtimes to spend with friends, or do you envision having only a handful of hours each month?
Task #2: Now picture the benefits. Finally, try to imagine yourself actually “doing life” with these friends. Imagine having a supportive network and see yourself as a pillar of that support. Now reflect on the following questions:
1. How does that make you feel?
2. How will these benefits improve your life?
3. What should you be doing now to make time for friendship?
In this lesson, we talked about how to be the kind of person who makes a good friend. In our next lesson, we will discuss the special challenges that come with finding friends when you are navigating a big life change.
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