What’s the ROI on Friendship?

Who are your five closest friends?  Did you intentionally choose them?  Or are they circumstantial friends?

Whether you realize it or not, your closest friends set the bar for what you consider to be normal.  For example, if you’re a B student and all your friends get C’s, you’ll feel like a high achiever.  If you start hanging around the straight-A crowd, it’s likely you’ll start to feel differently about those B’s.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.  Studies have shown that people rarely out earn their five closest friends.  In most cases, your income is more likely to be the average of the five people you spend the most time around.

Is it because we’re more comfortable with people of similar status?  Or because we adjust our expectations and thus our behavior to meet group norms?  Both.  We seek people who affirm our choices and behavior.  We also mirror the behavior of the people around us.  Put into practical terms, if you want to be healthier, hanging around people who have beers and burgers for lunch is going to make your health goals seem unrealistic, and thus unattainable.

In the rush of daily life, we often form friendships of convenience, like the office mate or the neighbor.  Yet these people might not be the best choices for your inner circle.

You may not be able to avoid the complaining or low aspiration co-worker, but you don’t need to have lunch with him.  From a financial and career perspective, spending time with high achievers has helped many people, myself included, up their game.  But financial matters aren’t the only arena of life.  There are other more nuanced ways you can create a more enjoyable life being choosy about your friends.

Here are three qualities I love in a friend:

  1. Someone who provokes interesting conversations
    I have one friend who isn’t ambitious in her career, but she is ambitious in her intellect. She’s well read and always ready to have an interesting conversation about current events, or the dynamics of human relationships.  Conversations with her get me thinking, and they keep me thinking long after the conversation is over.
  2. Someone who is a loving kind spouse and/or parent
    Years ago I was friends with a group of women who complained constantly about their spouses, I found myself joining in. I eventually realized being around these people is not making me a better spouse.  We all need to vent, and friends are the natural go to when we’re frustrated at home.  But if I find myself around someone who speaks routinely speaks negatively about their spouse or children, I back off, because I know, this person is not going to bring out the best in me.  A better place to spend time is with someone who is an excellent spouse or parent.  Their influence is more likely to help you be your best with those you love most.
  3. Someone who knows how to laugh
    Happiness is catching. All your friends don’t have to be high-achieving. Someone who helps you have fun brings joy and energy into your life.  No further description needed.

    If after reading this you’re starting to question some of you own friendships, go back and reread it from your friends’ perspective.  Are you the kind of person someone would want as one of their top five?