Why do we hang on to people past their use-by date?
They say that you should measure your life in friends, not in years.
That’s what I mean when I say I’m in my mid-30s.
(That bit about being a professional race car driver is another story.)
I like this idea, though of course there must be a quality dimension to it too. I don’t think they’re suggesting that you should just go out and amass as many friends as possible.
It does seem that some people live their facebook lives like this. I’ve got 1200 facebook “friends”. I’m killing it at life.
But how do you measure the “quality” of a friend?
This is actually an interesting question. And it’s an important question. They also say that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with.
I feel this to be true. If everyone you hang out with are blocked wage-slaves, more inclined to complain than they are to take charge of their lives, it’s going to be very hard to break that mould.
You’ve got no one modelling different behaviour in your sphere, and any attempt to break out is likely to trigger insecurities and spates of undermining and psychological white-anting.
You don’t need that.
So the question then is, what kind of people do you actually want in your life? Is it people who are driven by the lure of the dollar, and will go to any lengths to get it? Is it people who are looking for powerful ways to serve humanity? Is it people who just get a charge out of creating new things?
There’s no way to answer this without having some idea of how you want to live your own life.
What do you want to be doing? Or more importantly, how do you want to be experiencing life?
(Ever notice that all of these questions seem to boil down to knowing yourself better?)
It is not enough to say, “I want to be surrounded by people who support my growth.”
Growth is a multi-dimensional thing.
Someone might be fantastic for you in terms of your growth as a motor vehicle driver. But maybe not so much as an investor or as an entrepreneur.
So it really depends on what’s important to you. And so in that sense, the “quality” of your friends, if that’s how we’re going to measure our lives, is really about how well they align with how we want to experience ourselves.
The clearer you are on this, the clearer you’ll be able to understand whether someone is a good friend to have in your life. Do they fill your thoughts with sparkle, or do they deflate your balloon.
Oftentimes, I’ve noticed, this process seems to take care of it’s self. Sometimes the poles in your magnets switch, and you become repellent. Some people you just become allergic to.
The work here is probably not so much in calling new people into your life, as it is with allowing yourself to let go of the people who have gone toxic, have become a deadweight, or you just feel allergic to.
The question then is why would you keep someone around if all they did was bring you down and make you doubt yourself.
As someone working at the coal-face of personal development, I see this a lot. People sign up and they get excited. They get a new outlook on life. They start seeing things different.
And suddenly they find they’ve got nothing to talk about with their old friends any more. Or, they find that their friends are unsupportive, and offer pathetic downer-vibes dressed up as humanist philosophy. “There’s more to life than money, Jon.” “Money can’t buy you happiness, Jon.”
“Sitting on your dreams and squashing the life out of them, like some cosmic whoopee cushion, that’s the secret to happiness, Jon.”
People start to become allergic to their old friends. They break out in a rash and get a case of just-don’t-want-to-call-them-back-and-talk-to-them-right-now.
But they don’t let them go. Why?
The short answer is that people are idiots and we do stupid things. But everything serves something, even if it doesn’t serve us over all.
So why do we hang on to the friends we’ve out grown?
I think the big one is safety. We’re a herd species. We feel safe when we’re with our tribe. Friendship is the glue that holds the tribe together. So unstitching some of that glue requires strength. It requires stepping into a space where you’re consciously letting your tribe be a little smaller.
But these days, the chances that you’ll have to band together and fight off a pack of timber wolves is pretty small.
So if we come back into our strength – if we remind ourselves that we are safe, then we can find a place of security where we can actually evaluate what friendships are worth the effort and which ones aren’t.
The other big reason I think is that we are actually scared of stepping into the new version of ourselves that is waiting for us. In that sense, they are the familiar shore, and we cling to them because we’re afraid of going out where our feet don’t touch the bottom.
Where ever possible, we should live in that space where our feet don’t touch the bottom (unless we’re kicking arse.) That’s where the juicy stuff happens.
The other factor I think is some sort of mis-guided loyalty. Some people you’ve been with through thick and thin.
And I respect that. There’s honour in being loyal to our friends. But we also owe it to our friends to make sure that our loyalty actually serves them.
If we let people wallow in their fear and insecurities out of some sense that we’re being loyal to them by not challenging them with our own growth, we’re not serving them and we’re not serving us.
It’s lose / lose.
If you can’t let them go out of loyalty, then you have do your best to take them with you – to help them grow.
No point half-arseing loyalty too.
So come back to your power and sense of safety, commit to the transformation that’s on offer, and be clear about what loyalty actually means in practice.
Do this, and I think your friendship circle will naturally evolve to be more in line with who you actually are and what you’re about.
Have you hung on to people who were past their use-by date? Why did you think you did it?