Remember making friends in kindergarten? Those were the good ‘ole days. Being in the same classroom and admiring a girl’s light up tennis shoes was all it took to bind you two together in an instant. There were no trust issues, past hurts or boundary conversations. All we knew was that from eight in the morning until noon, being best friends was the greatest and easiest thing to be.
It may come as no surprise to tell you things have certainly changed. The older we are, the more complicated it becomes to build and maintain friendships. Common interest is no longer enough, but now we have conversations about schedule conflicts, moral differences, political opinion, personality types, long-term career paths and emotional needs.
With the demands of life, family and work, making time for healthy friendships can often drop to the bottom of the list; making the effort it requires feels too overwhelming to start.
So how do we move from the ways of kindergarten friendships toward mutually beneficial friendships, where we are all encouraged to grow and be the best versions of ourselves? Here’s a hint: It starts with you.
As self-discovery increases, so does our awareness of what kind of friendships we would like to cultivate. Did you know who you are friends with says a lot about you? Whether we like it or not, we are deeply influenced by the people we share life with. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously says that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Our values, self-esteem and decisions can change depending on who we are around. This reality can either help us grow or hold us back.
It’s time to take our friendships seriously and build ones that sharpen and encourage. We need friends who can see past our blind spots and encourage more for our lives than our weaknesses or insecurities would otherwise settle for. Caring for people in an unselfish way means wanting more and better for them, and having the willingness to walk with them towards that goal. It isn’t just about light up tennis shoes anymore, it’s about linking arms with one another to build better, healthier lives.
So how do we create vibrant, mutually beneficial friendships? How do we lovingly challenge our friends to move from weakness to strength?
Here are four ways to help us get started:
1. Increase your self-awareness and personal growth.
You will never be a good friend if you don’t first know and accept yourself. Insecurity, competition and an overall lack of self-awareness are some of the biggest enemies of healthy friendship.
Look for a mentor or a coach who is devoted to helping you grow. Seek out a counselor to get to the root of some of your repetitive issues. Make time for sleep and what makes you happy so you can have more bandwidth for the difficult stuff. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Ask your employers or close friends for honest feedback. Set goals. Fight for self-love and acceptance so you can fight for it in others too.
Knowing who you are, who you want to be and where you are going will make you both a stronger person and friend.
2. Be friends with people who are different from you.
Having common interests, values and goals as your friends is necessary in some respect, but being friends with people who are different from you can greatly benefit your growth.
Not only is it more interesting to do life with people who aren’t exactly like you, but it challenges your blind spots and weaknesses more than someone who shares them would. Ultimately, your view of the world, yourself and your future can be greatly impacted by someone who sees things differently.
We need friends who can see past our blind spots and encourage more for our lives than our weaknesses or insecurities would otherwise settle for.
3. Try to meet their want and their need.
It can be extremely difficult to confront a weakness or struggle in a friend’s life. We all say we want honesty, but it’s another beast entirely when we are the ones being confronted. No one likes feeling judged or as if they aren’t good enough. But if we have done the work of establishing trust, love and a lot of relational equity, than an occasional confrontation should not shake the foundations of that friendship.
When approaching a friend who seems stuck in a belief or a behavior that is harming their development, speak to them in the way you would want to be spoken to. Address the issue in love and remember what we all want: to belong. Before you get to the need, address that want.
Remind the friend of your commitment to them, your affection for them and your awareness of their strengths. Communicate that you have no agenda or angle but to help them and that they are not obligated to obey you. You are simply offering up the kind of challenge you would want as a friend if the situation were reversed. Be willing to listen and even to be wrong.
In the long run, it is their decision whether or not they will let you help them. If they see things differently, don’t want to change or cannot handle your feedback, then that falls on them, not on you.
4. Remember that growth is the goal, not control.
If we try to control our friends, we will lose them. If you constantly felt like your friends were trying to change you and control your every move, you’d walk away too. It’s not our role or responsibility to change people, we can only change ourselves.
That being said, it can be difficult to watch a friend continue to go in the wrong direction. So if a conflict continues and it becomes too hard on you to see your friend(s) continue in self-destructive behavior, it may be time to take a break or reevaluate the friendship.
Though good friendships take work, it’s often the work that makes them good. May we continue to walk closely with one another towards our goals, dreams and ultimately — a better us.
What have you found to be key in evolving your friendships with others?
Images via Scout Hunt