Roll back the clock to 2002, when I graduated from college. Virtually all of my friends graduated within a year of my graduation date and they spread themselves throughout the country, meaning that my former social circle existed only online and through occasional meetups.
Frankly, I had a rather difficult time building a new one. I found sets of friends that were mostly acquaintances who happened to be interested in the same things I was interested in, and for quite a while, this was my social circle. I’d hang out with the boys, play cards, occasionally go on road trips, have a pint or two in the evenings, and so on.
But as I began to take a serious look at my life, especially after the birth of my children, I realized that the people I was spending time with didn’t share many of my goals or even that many of my interests. I was already aware that there were big swaths of personal interest that I might as well not talk about or engage in with that group, but when I became a parent and realized I had to get my financial life straight, I began to see that most of my personal changes and new goals were off-limits, too.
To put it simply, your friends help define who you are and where you’re going. They can push you towards your dreams and help you along the way – or they can squeeze those dreams off at the roots. They can help you with good advice – or they can criticize you (and others) all day long. They can provide discussion that makes you learn and grow – or they can sit around and demean the things that you might otherwise personally value.
Just yesterday, I was leafing through Larry Winget’s strong personal finance coaching book You’re Broke Because You Want to Be and I came across the following passage, which is worth sharing here:
Ask yourself these questions about your friends:
What do you and your friends talk about? Do you make fun of rich people? Put other people down? Do you [complain] and gripe and whine about work and how unfair life is?
What books do your friends read? (If you answer this question with “Books?” that would be a clue.)
What do your friends expect from you?
What do your friends let you get by with?
If the answers to these questions are not ones you are particularly proud of, then you face the tough decision of keeping friends who are keeping you from your goals or choosing new friends who move you closer to your goals.
When I think about the circle of friends I held for a time after college through this filter, they were a pretty poor influence on me. We spent most of our time talking about sports, games, and famous people. There was also a lot of griping about how the world was out to keep individuals from succeeding and to keep people in dead-end jobs. There wasn’t much insulting of individual people, thankfully (other than one-liners that could basically be applied to anyone). No one read much of anything and those that did didn’t talk about it much. Mostly, no one really cared that much about anything except winning our card games and coming up with good one-liners.
In other words, it wasn’t all that great of an environment in which to grow as a person. It was fine for burning an evening, but no one ever motivated anyone else to really succeed at much of anything other than playing cards or golf.
I harbored dreams of becoming a writer, of succeeding on my own terms, but they didn’t start happening until I surrounded myself with new friends – or at least extracted myself from that group.
Here’s another way of putting it: if you harbor a dream or want to achieve a goal but you hide it from your social circle because you know they’ll make fun of it or oppose it, what are the odds you will succeed with that dream or goal?
Think about it: if all of your friends spend like it’s going out of style, how will that square with your sudden desire to cut back big time on your unnecessary spending?
If you want to go back to school or educate yourself about the world, how will that sit with a group that ridicules reading and never picks up a book?
You’ve voluntarily surrounded yourself with people hostile to what you yourself want to achieve, giving yourself a huge strike against your dream right out of the chute.
I’m not suggesting abandoning all your friends because you’ve decided on a new goal. There’s no reason to just walk away from a long-time group of friends simply because you’ve had a revelation about your goals in life or about your personal finances.
Instead, make a conscious effort to seek out new friends that are likely to share your goals and dreams and highest aspirations. If you’re going back to school, seek friends who are also learning about these things – look around your classroom. If you’ve decided to take up reading and educate yourself, join a book club and seek out friends there. The best way I’ve found for meeting people interested in keeping their spending low is through volunteering in the community or by taking classes on topics of interest (like cooking). No matter what your new interest is, see if there are community groups for that topic – and if you can’t find one, check out meetup.com. You may find that you have more in common with some new friends than your old group – and if that’s the case, grow with what you’ve found.
A great friend will always support you in what you do and will always focus on what you have in common, even if that changes over time. Seek these people out in all stages of your life. If you find that a person you considered a friend is actually standing in the way of your dreams, it’s time to look at things in a different light.