Growing up I remember some kids would seemingly only keep others around as “friends” because it made them look better by comparison. I think that’s something that we can all relate to. Unfortunately, I know far too many adults who never grew out of that stage.
I don’t believe I was ever one of those kids, but I can definitely see that I’ve gone down the opposing path. Instead of choosing to associate with people who make me look better, I look for people who challenge me. Certainly the mark of a good friend is someone who accepts you for who you are, but in my opinion, a great friend is someone who sees your potential and pushes you to tap into potential you may not realize you possess.
While many of the influential people of my past have fallen into obscurity due to innumerable reasons, I’m fortunate to still have some people in my life who challenge me to become a better person than I ever thought possible. I look up to each of these people, not because I want to “be” them, but because they all have something about them that I wish I could emulate in my own life. It’s a motley crew, but one common trait is that they cause me to think about my actions and improve myself. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list and I won’t be using any names, but if you know me, you’ll probably be able to pick out some of the characters I’m describing.
The first person who comes to mind is a guy who is very polarizing. You either love him or hate him. I don’t know of anyone who knows him, or knows of him, that doesn’t have an opinion on him. He’s always trying to get me to loosen up and be more outgoing. I don’t ever want to be the ladies man or party animal that he seems to be, but I’m thankful for his nudges, even when they aren’t very subtle.
Another is a woman who is wise beyond her years. She may be younger than me, but is one of the smartest and most well read people I’ve ever met. Not only is she book smart, but she possesses something many “smart” people do not, common sense. She’s not only expanded my reading list and has introduced me to new music, but thoughtfully questions my sometimes rigid opinions and in doing so has broadened my thinking.
I’ve always admired people who own their own business. I don’t know if I could ever do it myself, but I know a guy who’s doing an admirable job with his. Adopting a niche and filling it perfectly, he lets his work speak for itself. He’s not boastful, but is always doing excellent work and contributes to the community more than any other business owner that I know of.
I can’t say that I know anyone who’s worked for the circus, but I do know a woman who is an excellent juggler. Between her family, work and constant community involvement I don’t know how she keeps up with it all. I may be jealous of her having every electronic gadget known to man, but I wouldn’t want her calendar. She’s only been in the area a few years, but is more involved in the community than I thought was possible, and I’ve been here my whole life. I can’t say that I’ll be signing up to help out with every cause she champions, but I’m glad I’ve been introduced to new ways to help make my community a better place.
Do you know anyone who has a dictionary in their kitchen? I do. Whenever I get a little to sure that my opinion is right, this guy is quick to remind me that there’s another side to the story and my conclusions aren’t always based on all of the facts. I’m glad he’s there to push back and remind me that I don’t know everything. Sometimes I just need to be told to shut up, and he does it perfectly.
Think about the people you spend time with. Are you only keeping them around because they make you look better by comparison, or are they helping you to become a better person? I hope it’s the latter, but if not, that’s on you. The people I’ve mentioned probably have little to no idea that I think so highly of them or of their influence on me (well, if they’re reading this, now they do) and while I don’t enter into a relationship with the mindset of “What can they do for me?” when I do find someone who is more than just pleasant to be around, it’s something special. I hope that even though I may not be aware of it, that in my own way I’m helping the people I interact with too.