I’m what’s known as an only child. I grew up aching for a sibling. I’d made up that we’d be close and share everything together. In times of trouble we’d be allies, sharing secrets, having each other’s back. A life-long commitment to always be in each other’s lives.
I knew there wasn’t a guarantee and still, for so long, the ache of “aloneness” haunted me. I’d feel like the orphan child unable to access what others had fortuitously been born into.
Perhaps that’s why friends have been way more than that to me; they’re the family I’ve chosen for myself. Not random people but a trusted inner circle, a carefully curated wise counsel. Some eclectic choices, still a golden thread; they are vital in my life. Yes, some have come and gone and still, without a life without them? A very dark place indeed.
Which was why I was deeply curious working with someone recently who was insistent that she didn’t have any friends.
“What, not one?” I asked.
“Nope. Colleagues not friends.”
My spidery senses twitched. This person is one of those remarkable women you’d imagine had a whole fan club. It got better when she confessed that someone has actually BEGGED her to create a “friend” vacancy so she could apply.
We went in deeper.
Of course, we knew that “one” friend couldn’t surely be enough. Who would want that pressure? To be the listener, fixer and everything in between.
It can too easy to feel disappointment when we go to “our person” and get a missed reading on what we actually need. We come away feeling frustrated, misunderstood.
Turns out we can make it way easier, of course.
In his book, “Vital Friends”, Tom Rath walks through his ground-breaking research including analysis of more than 8 million interviews from the Gallup organisation’s worldwide database. It seems that the 8 types of friends you need to have, affect every aspect of your life including your health, work and even marriage.
Let’s share those 8 for you:
- BUILDER: catalysts for your growth, they’re great motivators. They push you to the finish line. They genuinely want you to succeed and lead you to achieve more. Not always a constant in your life, you know that your life has been enriched 10-fold for having met them. As growth is one of my core values, I’ve made a habit of surrounding myself with Builders. They make me want to be a better me. I’ve paid to be in rooms with these people knowing their brains are wired differently to mine. Thank God I did.
- CHAMPION: your personal cheer leaders. They’re loyal confidantes, the kind who you can bear your soul without fear of judgement. They’ve got your back. They stand up for you and what you believe in. You hear what they say about you and it makes even you want to be you! When you’re down, root these out. They remind you why that voice in your head isn’t real.
- COMPANION: I call these my ‘plug and play’ friends. You might not see them for months, yet the moment you reconnect, it’s like no time has passed. You’d put your life on the line for them. Best description? ‘They know where the bodies are and love you anyway’. These are your “Best” friends who know you better than you know you. The kind who can call you out on your own BS and you’ll still love them. A key part of my team, the closest thing I have to real family. When I go AWOL, they know to come and find me.
- COLLABORATOR: they relate to your passions, interests, ambitions. You share familiar ground. It’s easy chat, not always deep conversations, yet it’s enlivening and can be a lasting relationship. Books, politics, music, food, films. Whatever it is, it’s a “thing” for you both. For me, it’s interior design. I have friends who I can talk houses with for days!
- CONNECTOR: the lynchpin. They seem to know everyone. They ask questions, love to get to know you and open doors. A constant source of invites and connections, you’d pay to get access to their world. They can often be an easy short cut at parties; ‘Do you know Mindy? Yep? Me too!’. As a monk being on social media isn’t always my thing. Having access to a handful of people who have direct contacts with hundreds? Priceless.
- ENERGIZER: bucket fillers. No matter your mood, in their company life feels lighter. They don’t take life too seriously. You come away feeling inspired and lifted. They may have a remarkable ability to work out how you tick and love to leave you smiling. Everyone needs an Energizer. Just thinking of the names of some of my Energizers brings joy.
- MIND-OPENER: they challenge your perspective, bring new possibilities. With great questions they offer you a mental workout, pushing you to access Unknowns. You find yourself leaning in to learn. Not always a comfortable ride, they play devil’s advocate. You know you’ll land somewhere new or more rounded. Research shows we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people, making mind-openers crucial if we are to truly grow.
- NAVIGATOR: go to’s for guidance and truth. They help you know who you are and equally who you’re not. Often mentors, they help you reach your destination. In trouble or stuck? These are the ones who help you unravel your mess and make a decision. Or even the first step. They’ve had challenges, gone the longer way. They’re happy to teach and pass on the GPS to you.
Quite the selection eh?
Let me be clear.
No one person meets ALL these needs.
YOU can’t be THAT person to someone else either.
So, from this point forward, stop giving your partner, husband, bestie or sister a hard time because they can’t or don’t want to live up to that. And stop giving YOU a hard time for not being THEIR One.
Nope it seems the research proves it, you need your squad, your clan to accompany you on this crazy dance called life. It’s not numbers, it’s ROLES.
If I want to talk about my break-through moments from a new piece of learning, I go to another one of my “vital” team. It saves Andy the ache of trying to look interested. And me feeling resentful because his eyes are glazing over.
Plus, my Builder/Mind Opener buddy will often help me take it to an even deeper level.
It’s not personal. I do the same sometimes. There’s no hiding my eyes glazing over when it comes to football.
The research was clear on something else too; That friend who always comes to you for advice or guidance on her marriage? She’s your person for karaoke, not advice. That’s ok too. Apparently 83% of people offer different strengths to the relationship than their best friend does. Who knew?
Meanwhile, closer to home…
I’m a coach. I watch people listening to what they’re saying and more importantly what they’re not. It’s not a sport for me, it’s what I do. On a recent trip, my husband and I were sharing a coffee. We like to dream big and chew over new ideas when we’re away. A few sentences into what I thought was a great conversation, I noticed he was going quiet and frustrated. I stopped talking.
“Why can’t you just be my Wife and Companion sometimes?”
“I’m not looking for insights and goals. Not even fresh perspectives or direction. I’m just shooting the breeze. Wanting to have fun and do daft stuff.”
Time to change hats.
See this as a big puzzle.
Sit down with a list of all your friends and ask yourself what they bring to your life. How do they contribute? What would you miss? Share it with them – and take tissues. Now that’s a conversation they’ll love to have.
And then get real. Where have you got gaps? Like my person, maybe you know you have some vacancies. We’re hard-wired for connection, this is too important to leave to chance.
There’s 8 billion people out there. With incredible skills, backgrounds and experiences. Now you know what you’re looking for there’s no need to pull up the draw bridge with the idea you don’t have enough time for the friends you already have. You do, for the right roles. Now you can be discerning.
Anyone wanting to apply for my fun time cranky position form an unorderly queue…I’ve got a vacancy.
Create your remarkable life. Here’s another way to do it intentionally.