I had the honor and the gift of attending a friend’s surprise 50th birthday party last week. After the shock wore off, the birthday girl sat aglow amongst 12 of her core people from every stage of life. The love in the room was strong and we were buzzed before the wine was even poured.
This is what it looks like when you dive into relationships with a full heart, the generosity to show up for people and the clarity to know what’s important to you in a friend. On the flip side, in my work with clients, often issues in their relationships arise and we notice that some of the challenges that show up in their careers are also present in their friendships. It is a lonely place to be.
They feel they can’t be completely themselves.
They don’t advocate for what they want or need.
They feel baited into drama and noise instead of what’s important to them.
They don’t feel seen or heard.
I like to remind them—you’re choosing all of that. If you’ve now decided you’re going to walk away from those dynamics in your career and you’re going to be a leader in your role—let’s practice by helping you become a leader in your life.
Who are you being with your people and who do you want to be?
What are you tolerating in your relationships and what are the things you will no longer accept?
In order to help clients set boundaries, we draw on an exercise I use with job seekers defining what they ABSOLUTELY need in their next roles. We get clear on the 5 non-negotiables for a next role like—flexibility, a boss who’s not an asshole, learning and growth—you get the idea. With clients struggling in friendships, we translate this to, "What are the non-negotiable qualities you need in a friend?" For me those five would be:
1. Respect (my time, my boundaries, me being me)
2. Vulnerability (can go there and can be present when I do)
3. Humor (either you make me laugh or you laugh at my jokes or BOTH!)
4. Depth (focus on the stuff that matters, not the petty drama)
5. Agency (you know you are in charge of your own life and you are proactive about shaping it)
When you figure this out, you can tweak who you’re being in relationships to make sure you’re in integrity with this list of qualities. In this process, there may be some bonds that don’t make it through the filter. If they don’t, it’s not always necessary to end the relationship altogether. Instead, you can keep these people in your life, but in a smaller way. You can decide to set different boundaries, see them less often and call on them less for your needs. They may not make it to your inner circle, but they can still be a part of your life in a way that works for you.
Of course, if the relationship is toxic and wearing down your energy and your health, you may need to walk away completely. Get the support you need in doing this. There was something you were getting out of that relationship—even if it wasn’t serving you. Breaking from that dynamic can be simultaneously uncomfortable and a relief for your soul. It’s never too late (or too early) to do this exercise. Whether you’re nearing your 50th birthday or just starting out after college—know that who you share your life, your dreams and your toughest moments with is your choice. And when you set intentions about who you want it to be, they show up in your life by surprise and to remind you of all the things you need most.