Life, Friendship, and Ambition


They say you are a composite of your closest friends, and given my ambition I often grapple with a balance between seeking to surround myself with those with similar goals and those who I’ve been close with for many decades.

On one side I have a clear path to significant improvement through association with those who value self-improvement and expansion of experience, and on the other I have ancient friendships with those who care not about these things.

Spending my time with those friends equates to tabling my pursuit of excellence in exchange for relaxation and fantasy and a relived childhood. Spending my time pursuing self-enhancement grants me an easier life, a fulfilled ego, and overall happiness with myself.

But who am I if I am successful without my friends? Who am I without those relationships? Nothing recognizable, perhaps.

I often feel as if ones path is chosen for you in terms of trajectory simply based on those you care about. If you care about those who do not have potential, or ambition, or either, and you are a compassionate friend, you are essentially anchored to them. They keep you earthbound when you could be exploring elsewhere.

But perhaps there is a hybrid–a way to have both. I’ve manufactured this to some degree, or at least significantly helped to do so, and it has been positive. But I cannot help but feel that one day I will look back when exposed to what I could have been, and realize that I wasted my time. I could have done x, or should have done y, and that I was held back by my desire to surround myself with those who did not care about such things.

I’m reminded of the sayings that you should teach your daughter to spend her time with rich people and then marry for love, and that one should pick their parents wisely. Who you become friends with defines you as a person perhaps as much as anything else. Your peer group sets your limits in so many ways, unless you’re willing to abandon them and cast off the anchor.

We have a friend that did precisely this. He left and went to Berkeley, and then on to get his Ph.D at Harvard. He made the judgement that his old friends (the same ones I’m talking about) were not worthy of his friendship–that they were poor associates and companions on the journey to achieve. I was gone at the time, off to the Army, but now I am back and he has still not returned.

Did he make the right choice? Is he happy? Is he glad that he turned from those he formed himself with? I cannot see how he could be. I am sure he has other friends, but the friends you make in high school are those closest to you, and I imagine that he shoulders an emptiness because of this.

I wish I had another circle that could pull me up the way I try to pull myself up. I wish I had friends that were not content to have some casual fun together and wait for death. I wish my circle, from the beginning, was hungry for improvement and mastery and greatness.

But they are not. And were I given the choice to replace my friends with such a group I would not take it.

I’ll find the right balance somehow. I’ll discover a way to have both upward momentum as well as the richness of spending time with my old friends. It’s clearly not easy, but I am not giving up. ::

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