I had adopted too many roles with too many people—shoulder to cry on, career coach, cheerleader, spiritual guru, complaining-partner—all of which now seemed to test my definition of friendship, and my ability to stay sane. I recalled moments leading to this insidious exhaustion: a barrage of career questions from one friend, with barely a “how are you?” in between. Dinner with another, who got drunk and complained about the guy she was seeing the entire evening. The invitations and requests that popped up when I served a purpose—donations, event attendance, post-breakup girls’ night.
Energy is finite, I reasoned, and it takes a lot to do your best work. Some of the hardest words to utter in a friendship are actually the most self-preserving: “I’m really swamped. I will let you know the next time I can get together.” It will feel cold at first; selfish, too. When a friend texts you at midnight for guy advice, you will feel bad letting the questions linger unanswered in your iPhone. When you decline a dinner invite because you’re overwhelmed, you will wonder if that person now actively hates you for prioritizing elsewhere. Women, especially, seem to run from this looming cloud of guilt whenever they don’t dole out social and emotional support in spades. I have always believed in adopting a giving attitude toward relationships. Never keep score. Expect the ebb and flow of changing life circumstances. But, especially during life’s most taxing periods, you must get a return on your investment in order to stay sane. As the saying goes, “Givers must set limits, because takers rarely do.”
There’s a synergy whenever you’re surrounding yourself with people who bring out your best self. You’ve got to find your soul people, the ones for which the answers to these questions—does our relationship feel easy? Am I better for knowing this person? Do they help me become closer to the person I ultimately want to be?—are always yes. I once read that you should invest five or 10 times more on these “soul connections” than what you spend on other friends and acquaintances. You can still be a mentor. Or a therapist. Or a cheerleader. These are kind, worthwhile things. But they don’t fill you. And if you’re not full, you can’t give back. And if you want to grow, you have to raise your standards.
With who is life easier? With who am I better? With who am I closer to the person I want to be? Invest intentionally, and see if your soul connections don’t emerge. You may be surprised by who barely notices your retreat, and who steps up to become a bigger player in your life. Every time I’ve tidied up my personal life, essentially my relationships, periods of intense personal growth have followed. I’ve felt inspired, light. I’ve learned my capacity to do fulfilling work has a lot to do with my mindset. You are the main character in your own life. So, choose growth. Choose wisely. Be a giver, but not one without boundaries. Choose yourself first.