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Posted under: Opinion

We’re Not Friends, Just Peers (And Other Lessons From 2017 That Changed My Life)

2017 took a lot to get through. Here's what it took from me, and what I learned when I surrendered to the right things.

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If you’re just joining us, I’d suggest starting with 2015, then moving to 2016, so you get a feel for how my yearly reflections feel.

For 2017, I made two affirmations:

  1. I must prioritize my mental and physical health over the concerns or convenience of others.
  2. I will not tell beautiful lies to avoid hard truths.

I failed persistently and routinely at both, but what I learned in the process has changed my life. Some lessons came easily, others were forceful and all have helped me examine myself and everything around me. Take what works, discard the rest and use my missteps as your stepping stones. Below is the sum total of those thoughts, musings, and learnings. It’s raw, emotionally vulnerable, but it isn’t an easy read—2017 wasn’t an easy year.

Friendships & Community

If your friendship is conditional and/or relies on the comfort of the people, it's not a friendship. At most you’re acquaintances who exchange frequent pleasantries and platitudes.

The easiest way to test this is to focus on your dreams and goals and share them with the people closest to you. There will be a natural separation that tell between those who (1) might disagree or have an opinion to add, but care more about you than their feelings about you and (2) those who said they’d support you through whatever, but actually meant “only with anything that aligns with my idea of what you should do based on who you’ve been until this point.”

Access is earned. It can be rescinded and/or denied as necessary.

Most people on the internet aren't your friend. My actual friends don't care about whether I'm speaking on a panel. Or quoted somewhere. Or on Instagram. That’s why we’re still friends. The gains I make in my career come second to the time we spend in community with each other, the moments we have made and the ones we’ve yet experienced.These are real friends and they get a different tier of access because they are etched into my foundation.

Beware of people who test your capacity to withstand pain just to uncover your limits because of their own insecurity.

I don’t need friends who are like personal trainers. My emotions aren’t TRX resistance bands, and I’m not training for a 5k with you. I’m looking for longevity in a race that’s all my own. I am for growing and expanding, but not to prove to you that I’m worthy of your time. I love me more than I love the idea of you liking me.

Proximity is not an indicator of power nor a denial of it.

I have relationships with people who I see twice a year and it feels like we live down the street. I deaded relationships with people I used to talk to everyday because it wasn’t good. I’ve drifted from people because our growth patterns are different, not because one of us is a bad person. We do a disservice when the only explanation of transformation is a binary one that helps us rationalize things that might not be for our understanding yet.

Community is not about your convenience.

2017 saw a rise in people obfuscating the word community so much that it started to sound like a synonym for a membership site you pay into instead of a vibrant entity that is the sum total of its inputs, both seen and unseen. When you prioritize your role in one, you start treating people like projects because they grew up in one, then wonder where the love went.

Waiting until you clear your first million before you give isn’t thoughtful. Know your role in the ecosystem you claim to be a part of. If you aren’t aware yet, you can always ask. That’s the thing about villages, they always have elders, but finding them requires you to be quiet and observant first, so you can make the impact you talk about. Recognizing someone as valuable and treating them as valuable should never be conflated.

Being a mentor is not about solving problems. It’s about creating environments that allow for small moments of bravery that can be replicated.

I have a handful of direct mentees, and an extended network that is a bit ad hoc. As I’ve gotten to know them better and understand what they need from me, it’s become more important that I give them my silence before any council.

Dating/Love

Sometimes you are the toxic person, sometimes they are. Other times, you could just be in different places learning different things.

It’s hard to know what’s bad for you, if you’ve never spent the time identifying what good looks like, or how you want to grow. The toxic thing could just be uncomfortable, and the good thing could be toxic, but it feels great. Discernment is crucial, because building your life on the precepts that you aren’t aware of, isn’t building. It’s renting.

Love without specific action is ambiguity that feels nice. The price for that is too high.

Basic things can be burdens. Accept when people want to walk with you. Do not push them away because they model what you know you need but don’t feel ready to accept simply because you have never seen it this close or this consistent.

'Status courtships' are trash.

I don’t want to be relationship goals on a timeline somewhere without actually having real ones. At this point, my world continues to become smaller, which is wonderful. It does lend itself to what I’ve deemed prestige alignment; the incessant search for someone settling down and settling are different things, but they are deeply influenced by our social circles, and the contagion that exists inside of them. You finna get this love, but only if you want it.

Do not keep score.

Protect your space. Set boundaries. Care for yourself. But if you enter into the arduous task of trying to build something with someone, it is at once foolish and misguided to apply models that are constituted around things that can’t be tracked. I’ll lose an argument to pursue peace, and I will most certainly humble myself if it means I learn how to think more clearly. Winning an argument without learning is the quickest way to stack up wins by yourself.

Partners can pay the price for an environment you never dealt with.

Of all my mistakes in matters of the heart, they can can generally be traced back to things I wasn’t courageous enough to address, or was too insecure to ask for help or advice around. Trust issues. Codependency. Affection gaps. Negative self-talk. Abandonment scenario planning. Therapy helps. No amount of success, visibility, or access can erase emotional scars or trauma that preceded the person you may be working on creating something with. You can’t come in perfect, but you can give them a awareness of where you are, and where you’d like to go with them. You might need to have an emotional liquidity event, and examine who or what remains after it. If they remain present, and push you because they want you to grow into what you’ve shown you want, then they are for you.

Get better gifts.

I have a real proclivity for well read black girls because I was raised by them. I also have a deep interest in powerful ones. As such, I’m probably going to spend my life with a woman who will be able buy her own Birkin if she so pleases. I’m happy to be the dude that puts a steady stream of books in said bag, so when she is traveling and reading, her intellectual enrichment is also something I get to be adjacent to. Issa thought.

Who is for me will be revealed in my growth, not my successes.

They’ll stay because they chose to, not because it benefits them.

Career & the Grind (You Wasn’t There)

Humility is not subservience.

I’m not powerful because of where I’ve worked, what I’ve done or who I know. I am who I am because I was imbued with things that I can’t explain but I know are important. Creating (meaningful) connections is a simple activity and a difficult process with exponential results.

Just because you’re on a panel doesn’t make you a thought leader.

That’s like saying you’re The Rock because you go to the gym three times a week and did a few supersets. Doing the work required to have your own opinions and the testing of those opinions can get you started, but maybe the first step is to learn how your own thoughts control you. Who are you if you don’t get retweeted on a Thursday at 7:25 p.m. in a room full of your peers?

Doing the work is only a part of the equation.

Showing your work and subsequently celebrating it, does not make you any less humble, but it will certainly make you more effective in whatever mission you are pursuing. We would do well to do both, early and often.

No one cares about your ‘10,000 hours.’

I’m sorry, but among the worst kind of hustle posts on the internet is the misappropriation of Anders Ericssons’ research on what marks a top performer (10,000 was the average not the focus). The issue is that a number makes it feel better when you are toiling in obscurity, and gives us something to hit. That’s nice, but it’s not true. The key was how deliberate people were at practicing at the edge of their ability and shifting the margins of what they thought they could do.

Being busy is the wrong measuring stick for importance.

Your calendar is a place that should be owned, operated, and managed by you. It is your territory that you oversee. You want an hour to eat avocados and listen to SZA, so be it. Twelve minutes of Soca to get you right before a big meeting? You betta. But leasing out your time  things you do not want to do, you burn through something you can never have back. Don’t let it move without you. Instead of thinking of your time as a chain that binds, reposition it as a canvas. You control your time, and you use that brush in strokes and dabs and sprinkles so you get the most out of what you need to. Overcommitment is the enemy of your effectiveness.

You'll be required to adjust your lifestyle for your dream. All the time.

The adjustments will be extreme because of what you are trying to do. Live at the margins of what you can see and what you know is possible. Why I ever thought that wouldn’t require me to leverage everything I did for everything I want is beyond me. I wasn’t aware of how much bigger those adjustments would get the closer I got to my ideal outcome. Spoiler alert: they increase in magnitude in relation to how big your vision is. You are built for it though.

Excellence isn't freedom.

I don't have a definition for 'Black excellence' anymore. I used to think I did. It was definitely about degrees or prestige. I also don’t think conflating excellence with elitism is a solution. I don’t believe it’s going to save me or even make sure I am able to make the impact

I believe in learning because it transforms your scope of reference and helps me remain agile in the face of things that would look to unseat my psyche. Stop expecting grace from people who define themselves by a meritocracy you are not a part of.

Beware of confusing motion for progress.

You can't wear the crown and skip leg day. If it’s heavy on your head, imagine how your body is going to feel when you add more jewels to it.

Define “the process” as “your process.”

Maybe it’s being in tech that let me feel good about adding a faulty metric of speed to things that shouldn’t be framed that way. No one brags about how quickly they can make gumbo. If you eat it like I do, you know what makes it good is how long it has to simmer before it’s ready to be served. Careers, mine in particular, are the same way. I’m not other people, and my growth pattern won’t be the same as theirs. That’s a real gift.

Public v. Private Growth

Work on having a private life you're proud of.

I have so much fun doing things I’ll never post about. I have even more fun when my friends or family are involved. The best parts of the past year are not recorded anywhere but my subconscious. I relish that because they are mine.

Don’t let people check your scars to validate you. If you are drawing breath you are enough.

Say this to yourself, then say it again. Then go write it in your bathroom mirror, put sticky notes on your desk, and make a phone reminder at 2:45pm everyday. (love it)

If my values never cost me anything, they aren’t values. They’re suggestions.

Your foundation will get attacked. If not by someone, something will be presented that will test the entirety of your being. Don't take solace in the fact that it hasn't happened yet. Steal yourself for when it does.

Stop televising the bright spots of your glow up, then be surprised when people think it was magic.

You are in control of what you display. If you want to curate your feed, make it beautiful, but don’t be surprised with the assumptions that come with persistent sepia tone. If you want your audience to know the real you, perhaps it’s time to adjust the content and update the context. No one is going to search to find the real you. This isn’t a mystery novel, it’s your life. If you’re brave enough to show me your scars because you think they can help me heal, you’ll do much more good than pretending they don’t exist. But, only if you’re ready.

The stories can be fact or they can be a strong narrative fiction that might appear more commercially viable.

I've done it. Shared something to make it feel real in my head. If it's there, you don't have to showcase it. Security is not attached to visibility. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean I don't have it.

Transformation happens in public for some of us. You can hide, but it won’t make it any easier.

Part of the discomfort wasn’t visibility. I’ve come to accept that. It was that for the first time, my growth was happening in public, and there was nowhere to retreat to except within myself. That was my price of leadership that I ran from. My life has changed dramatically since I have stopped asking why am I like this and replaced it with how can I make the most of what I have been given right now? My greatest fear is succumbing to a poverty of curiosity; that I’ll never do that thing or become that person and miss out on the opportunities associated with taking the right risks.

Emotional Intelligence

They don’t really want static or smoke. They want to test the authenticity of something that might have outcomes they aren’t equipped to handle. Don’t fall for it.

I’m not a tough guy, but I was raised to match the energy presented, and after all other options are exhausted, to use whatever means necessary to ensure my own safety and that of anyone in the vicinity. I’ve found that when people who speak about you are presented with an opportunity to address you, they won’t. Let them be BIG MAD by themselves. It's a BIG RISK to let someone get you out of your zone for sport. Everything real can be threatened—it just can’t be destroyed by an opinion, no matter how big the person weaponizing it appears to be. You put pain in. They are playing with their own petty. Leave them to it.

Just because it’s a win doesn’t mean it’s in alignment with what you want.

What will determine how you develop is your willingness to go from hard thing to hard thing and believe that you will be a victor. Courage means embracing what you don’t understand and the things there are no answers for. Growth doesn’t mean old wounds won’t be reopened. It does mean that you can identify what those triggers are, name them correctly (or with more understanding) and take different actions for different outcomes. It takes as long as it takes.

You can’t know what you actually have faith in until you've had to test the core tenants of what that profession is and wrestle with those things in public and in private.

All those euphemisms will get put under the microscope, now or later. A lot of things don’t matter. Like how responsive the HTML landing page is when you get the phone call that your friend is actually unresponsive in the critical care unit. He didn’t make it out, and you stopped going outside for a few weeks and lost weight while everything around you got heavier. It looks like you have it all figured out, but you’re exceptional at hiding until you realize there is no more space for you, just the life you’ve been propping up for other people.

Compassion and empathy are not the same thing.

Empathy means you can feel their broken arm. Compassion means you took time to make a splint, helped put them in it and checked back in two weeks later. You can perform compassion without some part of it having discomfort attached. I think that’s the point.

Memories are only as powerful as the attention you give them.

Sometimes I’ve used painful memories to escape from current ones. Trauma can be more familiar than growth and feel safer. You can find safety in the dark, if that’s how you learned to do things. For some of us, the light of the future can feel much worse than the dark of the present, because we know the nooks and crannies of our own despair. Do not stay there for anyone or anything. Get help, take baby steps, crawl if you must. But please do not deprive us of a whole you by leaving half of you somewhere where no one can find you.

People can't see your potential, just your patterns.

I’m not a good judge of talent. Not because I’m not perceptive, but because most of us aren’t. We pattern-match based on limited knowledge, and hope that we are right. Talk to yourself like someone you love.

Stop making your life a listicle. It's longform for a reason.

Of the countless ways we give away our personal power over the narratives of our lives, trying to summarize our own stories so they become more palatable for others to digest might be the most harmful. I’ve been speeding to the middle of nowhere for a long time. I thought everything was missing me. I wanted everything that wasn’t for me. EVERYTHING. I blamed it on living in New York. I made excuses for not resting because “that was the job,” when it was really me feeding my ego. Once I stopped, I got comfortable with understanding that sentences end, clauses close and chapters can be short or long.

Getting Uncomfortable

Don't marry your opinions if you aren't willing to divorce your comfort.

The first step to change is often vigorous unlearning. There’s no clock on that, and no one can save you from the work. But once you commit to it, you will learn far more than pretending you are ok will ever teach you.

They will love you for your ambition until it begins to infringe on their comfort.

You don’t have to invent “haters.” People will find their way to become one all by themselves. Under what felt like a fusillade of pain, I emerged better than I have ever been, but that has distanced me from people who have an idea of me that I made palatable because it was easier than actually, you know, changing.

Conviction demands discomfort.

It's true you shouldn't settle. It's also true that someone who isn't you can't tell you what settling looks like in your life, and they should never have the agency to control your decisions. What a remarkably corny focus, to pin my pursuit of mastery on whether someone else sees it, and gives me the glory. What’s even more trash is how long it took me to realize I actually was pursuing that end with reckless abandon. Don’t be dope for them. Be phenomenal for you.

You might start getting fewer “answers,” but you can use what you’ve learned to ask better questions.

Here are are a few I’ve worked on that might serve as good thought starters leading into 2018. They aren’t easy, but that’s not the point.

How many toxic relationships am I tolerating? Why?

Is this comfort costing me parts of my character?

Do I enjoy what I’m doing? Am I ok admitting that it might be time for me to give up everything I know for something new? If not, what am I most afraid of?

Am I asking for feedback or validation via confirmation?

Do I love her or just how it feels when we’re together?

Am I comfortable with the future as I see it right now?

Are they a friend or a convenient part of my social life?

What hard conversation am I not having because I am too prideful about the outcomes not going my way?

What do I produce under pressure? What does that pressure produce in me?

What myth about myself is driving this decision?

Will they clap for me if I outgrow what they knew me as?

Is Confessions really better than 8701?

I hope you get closer to light, love and a renewed vigor for your own development -- both for you and the things you are burdened to accomplish. When home has pain, I pray it doesn’t envelop you. Post-traumatic growth is possible. Excruciating, but possible and necessary. Here’s to yours and mine. Instead of  choosing not to be who you really are because it costs you comfort, choose yourself again. May 2018 bring you to everything that’s for you, and further from everything that isn’t.

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