A diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble.
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Every now and then, one idea has the power to shift our thinking. When I saw Tim Ferriss share this today and quote this passage, it did exactly that. First I’ll let you read it and comprehend it.
It’s a passage best read at least three times. Here it is:
“The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.
But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”
— David Whyte
When I first read this passage, it made me think about all the people we encounter in our life. How many of them become friends? How many become enemies or people that we never want to talk to again?
Could the difference between friends, enemies and one’s inability to form human relationships say something profound?
There have been times in my life where there have been no friends in sight and I have felt alone. They were the times I was most lonely, confused and battling mental illness while being too afraid to speak up about it.
I was working myself into the ground. The harder I worked, the closer to my goal of being known for something profound was supposed to be.
There were many late nights at the office with a beer in hand to hold back the pain. There were many weekends spent making music to release the emotion of a severe romantic breakup that broke a young boys heart.
Instead of spending time with friends and making new ones, I was alone at home away from other human beings. This alone time became a prison at times. On the odd occasions I did leave home to socialize, my limiting beliefs were reinforced and my friendship circle reduced.
It wasn’t instant rejection.
It was more like “that dude Tim is weird — maybe don’t invite him next time.”
My friendship circle got smaller and smaller until all I was left with were people just like me, who were angry at the world, and were craving attention through their part-time hobby (mine was music production).
Rather than look at why my friendship circle was getting smaller, I took the rejection as a problem with the people who issued it like a parking violation. The lie was, it was them. Now I know it was me.
A ridiculous personal identity
As my career became about the corporate world, I adopted the black suit, white shirt and the red tie that was supposed to be a sign of power, influence and an amazing inner circle.
Honestly, I had none of that. The suit made my skin itchy and it caused me to sweat in the hot Australian sun while in meetings with clients I was trying to fool with my fake professionalism.
The more professional I tried to become, the more people had no idea who I was. A man named Walt Disney (Walter was his first name), helped me see the fake identity I had created for myself that was a mask for mental illness.
He became a friend and that was just what I needed to overcome my professional identity crisis that was pushing everybody else away. It was the first sign that perhaps my life would always be in trouble.
Having someone there to help save you from yourself
Never underestimate how important a friend is when it comes to saving yourself. Everyone could do with a good friend who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear — rather, they point out the brutal truth and ask you to think.
The disasters and tragedies will find their way into your life and that is when you will be glad to have a friend(s) to save you from yourself.
Even average people have their life meltdown in front of their eyes. Rich and powerful people who look like their minds are impenetrable have the same reality to contend with too.
All of us need a friend and a lack of them is a sign of where you may want to focus your attention.
Either you need a friend now, or you’ll need one in the future — either way, you need friends when life messes up your doona with a coffee stain.
Being seen by someone
Having someone notice you exist confirms that you’re not living in a simulation like a few famous technologists claim might be the case.
If no one ever notices you, did you exist? If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?
Being seen is a potential path to being heard, and that could lead to an outside belief from a stranger who becomes a friend, and ends up believing in why you exist and what you were put on this planet to do.
It’s powerful to be seen, even if it’s only for a few seconds in somebody else’s highlight reel of life.
The illusion of permanent friendship
Whatever friends you manage to make and collect in life, they can only ever join you for one part of the journey.
They can’t be there forever because you enter this world alone and leave it that way too (hopefully slightly better than you found it).
It’s not the length of time that you play a part in each other’s journey; it’s the fact you got to be with each other on the journey in the first place.
The journey of life is impossible to complete solo
What does all of this mean? You cannot complete the journey of life alone.
It’s too hard and your mind will lie to you to make up for your lack of friends who challenge your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. Once you realize how important friends are, you’ll see how a circle of diminishing friends is a sign that you might be in deep trouble.
It’s not a dire situation, though. It’s an opportunity.
When you see your circle of friends diminishing, you have an opportunity to fix the problem. Inevitably that will mean fixing yourself first.
Look at how many friends you have, the quality of those relationships, how lonely you feel, and ask yourself, “how am I complicit for the strength or weakness of these relationships?”
Your circle of friends says a lot about you and that can tell you a lot about where you’re currently at on the journey of life.