I never smoked weed growing up. Not that I’m against it in any way, it just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t get into it in middle school, when all my friends did, and by the time we reached high school it felt like I would just be doing it to fit in rather than picking it up organically. So the window in which I wouldn’t have felt like a total poseur just sort of passed me by.
But living in an upper-middle class suburb in the early 2000’s you can imagine I was in the vast minority of kids that traveled the path of non-indulgence. And somehow that was always fine with me. Because no one ever bothered me about it. No one ever asked me why I didn’t smoke, not that I had a serious reason anyway. No one ever pressured me, poked fun at my choices or let them strain our personal relationship. I can comfortably say that, despite never taking a puff, I never experienced a single incidence in which I felt ostracized or looked down upon for my choices. In a peer group that prioritized getting blazed above pretty much everything else, no one ever bothered me about it. And that’s because I have a gift.
Now, when I say gift, I don’t mean like Good Will Hunting kind. This talent is a lot less cool than being able to add numbers to letters and scribble really fast on chalkboards. In fact, it’s not really a talent so much as a learned character trait developed as a side-effect of being born with too much confidence and self-assurance. But regardless of how things came to be, I’ve been fortunate enough to gradually master the art of teaching others how to treat me. Something most of us lack, and it costs us overtime time.
Let me give you an example, do you know when the last time someone called me to complain about their relationship with their significant other was? Me neither. That’s because the people in my life, the one’s that I hold close, have learned over time that if I’m approached with such a scenario, I’ll likely just hang up on whomever is calling and get back to my day. You may consider this a bit cold, and perhaps that’s fair, but it’s always been my belief that those types of affairs are best handled solely between the two people involved, and that any attempt to outsource the problem is really more a sign of relational insecurity than a genuine seeking of advice. Either way, people have learned that I’m not the guy you come to with those types of things.
Now, before you write me off as a self-serving monster that doesn’t care about anyone but himself, there is a flip side. For issues regarding professional choices, career advice, general self-fulfillment, suit tailoring and handicapping boxing matches, my door’s always open. You see, it’s not that I’m selfish. It’s that I simply understand the areas in which I can be of real contribution to my peers, and those in which I’m simply going to be used as a crutch for their inability to face things on their own or be resourceful enough to seek better counsel. And you should too.
Take a look back at this current chapter in your life. How are you viewed by the people around you? Be honest with yourself. Are you the type of person that would do anything for anyone simply because you feel it’s the right thing to do? If so, first off, let me commend you for your willingness and desire to be there for the people you hold dear. Second, ask yourself, what is it costing you? What is it costing them? What I’m getting at here is that there is a fine line between genuinely contributing to the progress and well-being of others and sacrificing your own time, energy and resources attempting to lend a helping hand in areas in which your capabilities may not be best suited, or worse, becoming an outlet by which to justify self-defeating behavior.
We all have people in our lives that are in need. The question is whether or not our efforts to support them are really bringing them value long-term. I still have friends that haven’t quite gotten it together. The friends that skated through early adulthood, always thought there would be time to figure it out, and still haven’t found their place in the sun as they approach 30. They still bounce around between temp jobs, no real direction and no genuine desire to establish independence.
Initially I was eager to assist them in creating a foundation on which to build a promising future. It took me a long time to realize that the way in which I was going about it wasn’t doing much good. I learned, in time, that it doesn’t really help to let your buddies crash on your couch for months at a time if it brings them enough contentment that they don’t see anything wrong with being in their late twenties and not having an ability to procure a permanent residence. That is, coming from an upper-middle class background and facing a relatively low level of adversity and abundance of opportunity throughout life. But coming home from the office, day after day, to find an old friend loading up another bowl in between games of Call of Duty made it pretty clear that, even though my heart was in the right place, I was really only intensifying the problem.
This is a relatively extreme example, of course, but the point is in the principle. We cannot be all things to all people, but we can be some things that really matter. Nowadays, if your parents kick you out because they’re tired of you somehow always finding a way back to your childhood bedroom, I’m about the last guy you’re going to call for a place to crash, but the first to call if you need help beefing up your resume. Those are the boundaries I’ve set, the one’s I’ve trained others to respect.
A girl very close to me has tremendous family issues. She comes from a very poor background with little opportunity and has been the only member of her immediate family to take life by the horns and make something of herself. While this should be a reason to celebrate her accomplishments and see her as a role model, her siblings have become more and more embittered towards her with every stride she’s made towards prosperity. Family engagements have routinely turned into fiascos, holidays have lost their charm. And for the longest time she held tightly to the perception that she had an obligation to her family simply because of their inherent connection. This brought upon an excruciating internal conflict. Every inch of progress in her life has been accompanied by a sense of guilt, laid upon her by people whose happiness she can’t be held responsible for.
She’s recently taken a stand, set firm boundaries on how she is willing and not willing to be treated by her family, and made it clear that if those lines are crossed, she will gladly move forward one fewer relationship at a time. These types of commitments can be incredibly difficult to make at first. But by making a vow to herself about how the people in her life will interact with her, she has opened the door to an entirely new spectrum of opportunity.
So ask yourself, what can you and what are you willing to contribute to bring an element of true value to the lives of your peers? And what are you willing to sacrifice in your own life to aide the shortcomings of others? It’s an admirable characteristic to hold a genuine desire to help the people you care about. It’s also a travesty to limit the potential of yourself and others by aiding the flaws or shortcomings of your peers. A truly valuable friend will do what’s best for you and for themselves, even if it involves a particularly harsh brand of tough love.
Be good to yourself, be a friend to others. You’ll find that prioritizing the first will give you more strength to accomplish the second.