Seven and a half billion: the number of humans bouncing around this planet like pin balls. So why are we so alone? Why do we carry the sole weight of our own success and happiness? We spent our childhood biking around the neighborhood, gathering up friends as we went along, and hanging out in the best backyards together. Our teen years were spent in small packs, entertaining ourselves, getting into trouble, and holding each other’s hands through the toughest years of our life thus far. As we journeyed through our college years, we studied during the week so we could party the weekend away. We formed bonds that we thought for sure would last a life time.
Then something happened. For some of us, it was gradual. For others, it happened overnight. We grew up, put on our adult pants, set aside the playdates, and chase our career. At first, it’s invigorating and self-inspiring, but then the pressures keep stacking higher and higher on our shoulders until we can no longer self-coach ourselves through it and, at a time when we need friendships more than ever, we find ourselves so very alone.
In the first chapter of his book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, Tom Rath interviews a homeless man. This man previously had a very normal life: good childhood, an education, a wife, three children, and a job. “What landed you on the streets?” Tom asked.
The story that followed did not start with poverty. It did not begin with alcoholism. The lead domino was the loss of his close friend at work. Having a good friend in the work place made the stresses of the job and their harsh boss bearable and even enjoyable. Without his friend at the desk next to him, the negative pressures built until he could no longer handle them. He began to drink excessively, eventually losing his job, his wife, his children, his home, and his car.
“Who expects you to amount to something?” Tom asked of him. “I don’t think anyone does anymore,” was his reply.
While this story may be more on the extreme side of the scale of negative effects of the lack of friends, it sometimes takes the drastic to open our eyes. We need people. We need friendships.
This life throws some real messed up crap at us. Our idea of a perfect projection can be shattered in a spilt second, and sometimes we don’t realize that second happened until we look back in retrospect. When broken perfection trips us up, our human patterns of survival kick in, and we begin to sabotage ourselves with negative thoughts of fear and failure. These are most vulnerable moments of our lives.
These are the moments we need specific, vital relationships with people who truly believe in us. We need someone to help us sort these spiraling thoughts, label them for what they are, and climb back up. Tom Rath outlines 8 roles of friendships, saying that everyone needs 3-4 friends who display some of these in order to maintain a healthy and happy life.
1. Builder – Motivator, personally investing in the building of your success
2. Champion – Got your back, standing up for you and what you believe in
3. Collaborator – Shares many of the same interests, passions, and hobbies
4. Companion – There in every moment of your life – good or bad
5. Connector – Networking buddy with access to any connection you need; “knows everyone”
6. Energizer – The feel-good friend who keeps who laughing and having fun
7. Mind Opener – Gently pries open your mind to see outside your comfort zone of ideas
8. Navigator – Weighs the pros and cons with you, guiding you to the best decisions
Of course, no one person is capable of being all this for you. You’re going to need several to cover the bases that are most needful for you.
If you are fortunate enough to have people in your life that reflect this list, invest in them. Be to them the type of friend you do best. And the next time someone says, “We should get coffee sometime”, make it happen. It could save your life.