If you’re looking for a litmus test to see how well you’re doing at life one of the best ones you have available would be to look at who you spend your time with. And I don’t mean their title, like your boyfriend, or your sister or your coach, I mean what they’re like in the world.
Do they cheat, manipulate for advantage, withhold important information, intentionally mislead others, do a lot of drugs, commit crimes, be violent, or be generally unkind or selfish? Then that is who they are. We are what we do. And so the meeting point between the characters of your closest companions will shape your new normal. Stay there long enough and that’s who you’ll become.
For this reason one of the healthiest things we can do is nurture our relationships with positive, healthy people. You still always want to feel like you could be happy on your own if that was the case, but in general the people you see the most often should be influencing your life toward growth, expansion and discovery.
Life is this series of choices that feel like they’re about one thing when we make them. Later we often find out we were choosing more than we thought. You thought you chose your friends but in fact they were largely your friends because that’s who you went to school with. Proximity did most of it. Families move and kids make new friends. School ends, work starts and before you know it you mostly have a new set of friends. They’re far more incidental than we usually realize. Those few that travel with us throughout our life are the ones that are our deepest and truest friends.
So the deep and true friends are indicators of who you fundamentally are. The qualities that they have that attract you are indicators of your most defining values. Your more incidental friends are the indicators of how you’re behaving, not who you are. So if everyone leaves work to do drugs or go get drunk then that will create a different life than people who go to the gym or take classes.
Expansion is natural. Growth is inevitable. To even slow it down is so painful that people will usually need substances to numb the pain created by their resistance to be creative in the world. Unhealthy people are always hidden away, either wounded or doing things they’d prefer others didn’t see. Healthy people smile, they’re lives are full and they’re active. A lived life looks like it’s being lived.
A lot of people slip onto a treadmill and their life becomes a steady uninspiring pattern. No one they know does much and they don’t either. There’s little new and rarely something to get genuinely excited about. Life does not have to be that way. There are people living it with zest and zeal. Not every minute of every day, but a lot of the time. They are moving toward life. They are taking chances, accepting challenges and pursuing their dreams. Where they end up doesn’t matter because it’s the going that matters, not where we go.
Look around your life. Ask yourself what it says about how you’re living. Ask if that’s how you want to be living and if it’s not, begin looking for things to change that will shift you more off balance; something that will require you to act to succeed. That is expansion: solving problems, creating things and friendships and experiencing moments of genuine joy. These things don’t happen by accident, they happen by intention. Take today, assess and then act with intention. Life has much to offer.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.