Time to Ditch the Friends?

I remember the moment when I almost crossed it off my list. Upon reflection, I’m really glad I didn’t. At the time, I had no idea that my happiness and success depended upon that one single item I had hastily written out on my yellow pad.

The word I had written was: FRIENDS.  It sat about 8 items down on my list, after my job, my child, my husband, and a few other things I deemed crucial.  FRIENDS came right below exercise and right above housekeeping.

I’d made the list, because I was feeling completely overloaded. I’d come back to work after having my first child and there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I decided to list out all of my responsibilities and activities to see where I could cut.

It quickly became obvious, if I wanted to have enough time for my child, my spouse and my demanding job, and actually sleep at night, the list needed some major cuts.  Time with friends seemed like a nice to have luxury, something that wasn’t crucial for my survival.

To be fair, I wasn’t planning to give up friendship all together, but I was thinking about drastically reducing the time I spent with my friends. Yet as I started to cross it off, my eyes began to fill with tears. The logical part of my brain was saying, you don’t have time for this.

My intuition, however, was telling me something else. My gut was saying, without friends your life will become a grind, and you won’t be able to do all those other things in the way that you want to.  I wound up quitting my fancy 80- hour a week job and starting my own consulting practice. It wasn’t just to make time for friends, but that was a big part. I also wanted time to exercise and be with my child in an unhurried environment.

Over twenty years later, I can honestly say, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. My friends (and regular exercise) kept me healthy in mind, body, and spirit. My consulting practice flourished, and I made more money than I’d ever made in corporate.

But at the time, many of my former colleagues thought I was crazy. One said, “You’re quitting your job for friends and exercise?”  She thought I was nuts.

These days, most of us are clear about the emotional and physical benefits of exercise. High performers make time for exercise because it keeps us strong, it centers our minds, and it increases our resilience.

But how people with busy schedules make time for friends.  Turns out, not many. Since the 1980’s the rate of loneliness amongst adults has doubled, from 20% to 40%.  The worst rates of loneliness are found in people who have high level jobs.

Friendship expert Shasta Nelson says, that despite interacting with people all day, many of us lack deep friendship that buoy and sustain us. In her new book, The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time, Nelson illustrates why friendship is crucial to our health and our careers.

We stand in a moment in time where many of us are feeling overwhelmed by our lives. As we look at our life to-do list trying to identify what really important, does friendship the cut?

I hope so. I kept it on my list, and I hope you can keep it on yours.