I grew up on a large cattle ranch in a remote part of Wyoming. We were hours away from the nearest small town so I went to a little country school with one other pupil—my brother. During my grade school years, I didn’t count my brother as a friend. Instead, we took turns taunting each other at recess.
It was a lonely existence. When I started to attend a public school at the age of fourteen, I quickly learned that friendship building is an art, and one that can be quite messy at times.
Back then, I wasn’t picky about friends. I just thought the more, the better. Friends meant I was popular, and when you’re a kid who is different from everyone else, that matters a great deal.
At first I thought that once I grew older, friendships would be more sincere and less superficial. I also used to believe in Santa Claus, so call me gullible. I spent a great deal of my early life lacking confidence in my ability to make my dreams come true.
And then there was always that exhortation from adults to “Quit dreaming . . . be practical!” As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve realized that I deserved better than friends who either would not or could not help me become my best self.
Plato once said, “People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”
Jesus said the same thing in his parables when he warned against putting down roots in poor soil. If we are not nourished, our souls will choke and wither away. It has been said that we grow where we are planted, and rich soil is likened to a noble and good heart.
Pick your friends with care—they create the environment in which you will either thrive or wilt. Give everyone the opportunity to be a friend, but share your dreams and goals only with those who value them as much as you do.
Here are 5 ways to pick better friends:
1. Change whom you hang around with – You have different friends for different parts of your life. If you have moved into a phase of life where you’re determined to set your own course, find people who can help you visualize what that future can look like. Like it or not, you become similar to the friends you hang out with. Your associations have a lot to do with where you’re at in every area of your life. Your friends are going to influence your behavior, so why not pick ones who will be a positive influence?
2. Establish a benchmark test for choosing friends – Ask yourself whether spending time with this person will lift you up or drag you down? Will spending time with this person help you to become your best self? Will you be happier after spending time with this person? Will this person help you achieve your most important goals? If not, find friends who will.
3. List five people who can help you achieve your dreams and goals – Make a list of five people whom you trust to listen to you attentively and tell them about your dreams and goals. Sharing details of our life creates trust, and if you don’t feel you can trust a person with the most vulnerable part of yourself—your dream—find someone else for a friend.
4. Create your own Advisory Board – Identify a group of friends who can help nourish the best in you. Meet with them regularly. Advisory Boards are made up of people who will lift you up, challenge, inspire, and hold you accountable.
5. Find a mentor – Have you ever talked with someone who thought you could accomplish more than you thought you could? Who gave you permission to follow your dreams? Who saw more in you than you saw in yourself? This is exactly the kind of person who would make a great mentor and encourage you to move toward your goals.
One of the best moves you can make in life is to surround yourself with friends who see the potential in you that you may not even see in yourself.
What criteria do you have for finding good friends who help you be your best self?
LaRae Quy was an FBI agent, both a counterintelligence and undercover agent, for 25 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. Government. Now she explores ways people can empower themselves via her blog Empower the Leader in You. You can find her on Twitter as @LaRaeQuy
Photo credit: ‘Furry Friends‘ by Big Stock