Friendship Framework

friendship framework - two guys sitting at the water edge

I’ve thought a lot about friends lately. Planning for my wedding last year required consideration about relationships in general. Both in who it was appropriate to invite from our families and in who from my friends it made sense to invite.

One result of moving from Palo Alto, to Boston, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York, and finally Berlin where I live now, is that I have a lot of friends in a lot of cities. Keep in mind some of them have moved elsewhere since I left our mutual stomping ground.

Looking through that list of potential invites the friends at the end of the tail in Boston or New York are very distant. Friends from Palo Alto who didn’t maintain direct contact with me since high school are automatically passive friends. We look at each others family vacation photos. Occasionally share or disagree with points made on social media. We like each others instagram posts. But as time passes, the bonds between lose strength.

People who promised to stay in touch when I moved away, are also the people who stopped showing any indication that I’ve crossed their thoughts since I left.

Not an easy thing to realize. But it makes me more steady in momentum too as we’ll see ahead.

I made a lot of investments in keeping those distant friends by visiting my former residences. This was especially true of New York, and Los Angeles. I didn’t want to let those connections go cold over time. I’ve intentionally avoided this by making trips back to each of my haunts and making an appearance with as many old friends as possible. But as the lists of former places lived gets longer, and the lists of friends gets longer, it becomes less and less realistic to make enough rounds to see everyone. One can’t visit new places if one keeps visiting the same ones over and over.

The other side of this is some people have come to Berlin and visited, others come to europe and don’t tell me, ignoring the fact that it’s relatively easy for me to grab a flight to most cities in the E.U. for the weekend. It hurts to see friends coming, and not even get a note, text, or call. Nothing makes me feel forgotten more than this.

Introducing the Friend Framework

And so when the guest lists were made for our wedding I had to create a framework to help filter out all the names. I thought about not just who I’d seen, but who had made an effort to see me. The ones who somehow communicated before the wedding that they were making an investment in our friendship – thus establishing a two way investment.

Friends who maintained contact exclusively on Facebook didn’t count. I decided that an Internet friendship held very little weight for me. If there weren’t emails, text messages, postcards, or face to face time between us outside of those likes and comments on FB, it just wasn’t a real thing. Even one phone call a year counts for something. If I couldn’t remember the last time someone reached out to me, it was fairly easy to take em off the list. It also elevated my affection for the people who were invited.

Choosing friends who reinvest

The framework made some sense, especially in the context of a wedding invite because it was a two way street, for the wedding and for life. If someone didn’t want to come to the wedding, it showed they didn’t care about seeing what was arguably the most important moment in my life. And afterwards, when choosing which branches of this family/friend tree to continue supporting through investments of time (and money to see them), it only made sense to choose the ones that bear fruit.

Does this mean we’re not friends anymore? No. It just means that I’ve finally given up on using my personal time to see people who as far as I can tell don’t think about me or care fo know me anymore.

Some rules of the framework

Skipping past the wedding itself, I now have a mechanism not only for deciding who to reach out to when I’m making the rounds, I also have a filter for who to follow in social media, who to send cards to when traveling, or for the holidays. Last year I removed 200-300 friends from my facebook account, it wasn’t hard, if I hadn’t communicated with a fb-friend in two years, I unfriended. Facebook’s algorithm had probably already long-ago stopped sharing our posts across boards, recognizing much earlier than I, that these people don’t seem to care for each others content.

Now that I live in europe, I usually have less than two weeks in the US to visit friends each year. After removing any family events, and mandatory things to do in the US (i.e. renewing drivers license) I usually have about 8 days to socialize. I try to give the folks in the places I’m visiting lots of warning when I’m coming so we can plan ahead, but there is admittedly very little time. Making use of my methods in the past I like to try and string together 2-3 friend hangs in a day, if I’m in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, that’s pretty easy to do and a good way to see several people over a short period of time without zipping around too much. But if the schedule doesn’t work, I expect people to come my way, whether I’m in Venice Beach, Williamsburg, or Palo Alto, I just can’t waste my trip driving on freeways because someone doesn’t fully understand the gravity of it being the only chance of the year to see each other. This more than anything else has forcibly reduced the number of people I see with any regularity now.

At first employing these methods felt harsh, but when I looked at it from the reverse, how others had handled their friendship with me, it only seemed fair.

It’s depressing, at first

Only a year or so into this way of choosing who to focus time with, I often get sad. I miss a lot of my friends. I know how easy it would be to just make an effort to reach out to them, but when the opposite of that is the absence of any friendship at all, I feel empowered to focus on the people who are making an effort to be in my life. It’s working too. We’ve made new friends here, and some of our friends from the US and Poland visit, make skype/facetime calls, send postcards, etc. So we have a shorter list, but a stronger purer group.

And so now?

I still intend to reach out to the outer ring of friends who don’t make an active presence in my life. I still let them know when I’m coming to the US. But I know where my focus is, and who I’m planning to see first, most likely we’ve already talked about it a lot before I even got on the plane.

If you’re my friend and your reading this and you feel like you unrightly fell into the wrong side of this equation, I hope you send me a note soon. Or if luck has it, we’ll connect again down the road in one way or another when the time is right.

Simply Aiming for Cash Doesn’t Work

Looking around the landscape of startups and founders around presently, it dawned on me, the aim for many of them is simply to succeed. Their company is not one they dreamt about as little kids. The problem they solve isn’t making the world a better place. Maybe it optimizes some workflow for someone somewhere and is therefor valuable. But if you boil down what the end to those companies are, and the wins along the way they may bring, the plainest take aways are success i.e. proof he can start/operate/grow a company, and cash.

So if the company doesn’t actually fulfill the dream of the founders, and it doesn’t make the world better, why are they doing it? What is the point of earning money simply to have money? It’s an empty goal. The results of it will be empty for all involved. People should avoid taking jobs, or starting new businesses just for the money. There is no greater waste of your life than to look back at 80% of the time you had and feel like it didn’t amount to anything but cash.

Yes there are skills to learn, and perhaps you have to take one for the team so you can get to a point where starting a meaningful company, or doing something meaningful is possible. But at all costs, avoid making that huge investment. Life is beautiful, and short. There isn’t time to waste just so you can have more money.

Every single moment of time is an investment into something, whether it’s sitting in a chair and investing into a bad back and bigger waistline, or talking to someone, and investing your thoughts, and ideas into the exchange of thoughts and ideas with that person as well as your relationship with them. When a employer pays an employee to be in one place doing one thing 40 hours a week, they are investing their cash into having a warm body available to perform a task when they need it.

Try to avoid being the one that is throwing away valuable time investment dollars into someone else’s pot, unless it builds assets for you and can make you happy, it’s a waste of your investment resource of time.

Understanding Fondness

Following the compass of my joy has been a central topic for me lately. In fact one could say it’s the most important issue in my life at this moment. For the last several years my compass was strong, and I was following the course, I was sure about where I was headed. Maybe I never veered, but in the last few months, it seemed like I was at a very critical turning point and following the currents of my life was the most important matter, with serious consequences if not given full attention.

So I’ve essentially put myself on an indefinite sabbatical. I’m 32, barely have any retirement savings, actually make that none. Most people don’t do what I’m doing. This for me, and feels unavoidable. If I were to continue on in the same direction unchecked, I fell as though I’d surely have gone off track; resulting in feeling lifeless and unable to do the best job I could at anything.

If I were to keep going the direction I was heading without listening very close to my instincts, I would find my soul backed into a corner, I’d be stuck in a life I don’t want, or at least, a life I didn’t actively choose, and rather fell into. Even if it had all the staples of a “good life” i.e. family, house, rewarding job, vacations, passions, etc., it would have felt like I wound up in a place I didn’t want to be in, or didn’t choose for the wanting.

I should put in a disclaimer; this is a first world problem, in fact it’s a meta-first world problem. most people never have a choice about what they do with their time, or who their family is, or what city they live in, or what size income they have. In that way I’m a spoiled brat. I’m not rich, but I am able to take time off, travel, or just fart around unharmed and that’s something most people can’t do. I am grateful.

But for clarity of the worthwhileness of this post and not wasting any time, I think there’s enough people who at certain points in their life can actively choose a direction and need to for the fulfillment in their life. It’s important to know when we’re at a junction for one of these life choices, and to follow the choice that is best for us. In my case, the choice that is best, is one where I can continue to grow as a person, where my day to day activities allow me to pursue knowledge, health, happiness, and creativity. Where I love the people I’m with, do not have to endure or create pain or harm to be with them, and we mutually benefit from each others company and support.

The process of this sabbatical has not been uniform, in a way it started months ago when I saw my role at my company waning in importance. But technically, it started yesterday, when I had finally gotten over my jet lag from flying to California from Berlin. I’m staying with my parents in Palo Alto, in the house where I grew up, sleeping in my old bedroom, removing as many external forces that cloud my focus as possible. I’m getting to the center of what I want out of my life for the next 5-20 years. There are many things to consider in this process, where should I be? What people do I need to be near? What daily activities are healthy and encourage growth? Putting it all together, what I should be doing will be very clear, that’s my guess at least.

An important development came to me this morning; I found a central point to the geography of my designs, i.e. where I would like to spend my future. It came to me by way of a creative activity. Yesterday, I went out on a photo safari, and took photos all over Downtown Palo Alto with a new 35mm camera lens, and then headed up to the dish in the Stanford Foothills to take wide angle shots during the sunset with another new 11-16mm lens. After the sun had set and I’d come home, I looked through the photos. I’d taken pictures of people, buildings, landscapes, sidewalks, streets. All of which I’d seen hundreds of times. As I enhancing the images I played with the exposure, perspectives, highlights, black and whites, and colors. Finally I choose a few to post online to share with the world. Some people are curious about Palo Alto (I figured), and some people just enjoy city scenes, architecture, and landscapes. But by morning I realized it was a cue for me. This is not where I want to spend out my days. Then and still now, the final feeling was that it was all so blah. Nothing in them sparked a fire in my mind.

Perhaps anywhere will become monotonous as my hometown feels to me; repetition destaurates mystery, and when mystery goes, so does excitement. But at least for the next 5-20 years, I cannot imagine getting much of any inspiration from the surroundings of Silicon Valley. Berlin was different. Every moment was a moment in Europe, with people who were still new to me, on bikes that are new (actually quite old), and cobblestones that I’d only seen in the days of my last two years. The weather patterns were still new to me. And this is something that is important for choosing my direction. It doesn’t mean Berlin is the only place I can live, but it helped me to understand what I need from my surroundings.

I need to be somewhere that provides a new perspective. If I can describe every detail of the surroundings, I probably know it too well, and won’t find myself pleasantly amused by ongoing discovery, and that’s something I need.