What May Save Us From Ourselves Is Being There for Others

THIS WEEK I was fortunate enough to catch a FaceTime with a few of my oldest friends — love you boys. It has been months since we’ve talked, maybe a year or more since we’ve seen each other last.

We’re living our lives, finding our way. Still, as I walked to the train station under a clear blue sky, we bantered like nothing has changed in a decade.

Throughout my life, my friends have been the most important thing to me. I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve had an incredible group of guys constantly surrounding me since high school; it’s more accurate to call them brothers.

This often makes me wonder why I moved from California to the other side of the world to begin a new life in Japan. Perhaps because my friends have given me the courage to do so.

Friends — true friends — are those we go to when we have amazing news and those we go to at our lowest. They won’t be jealous when we succeed; it won’t secretly gratify them when we stumble.

When I need to cry, when I need to work through a problem, when I just need a damn good laugh to feel like myself again, I go to them.

I’m in my late twenties, which seems like a crucial stage. I grapple with the question of what’s worth giving my time to.

I feel the pressure to make something of myself, to turn my love for creating into something more: a foundation for a career. It’s exciting, but it’s often overwhelming amongst the other facets of my life.

I want to spend my time as meaningfully as I can, but it’s difficult to know with adequate clarity what that even means. Sometimes, I’d much rather call a friend and catch up than stick to my schedule and work on a project, write, or do whatever is theoretically supposed to move me ahead in this illusory race.

In the end, will the work that we’ve done be the most important aspect of our lives? Or perhaps, looking back, will the only thing that truly matters be the relationships we fostered — the moments we took to reach out, to throw away the schedule and just be there for a friend, for family, for our significant other, for someone we love.

What’s it for — really, what’s any of it for — without relationships. Without people. Without love?

We don’t always need a reason to call; if you feel the urge to call, do it.

I heard Simon Sinek on a podcast recently talking about his own loneliness as a middle-aged man. Sinek is an incredibly successful entrepreneur, writer and speaker.

He discusses how he wishes he could have the time now to do some things he missed while on his journey. Still, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.

He now understands how to be the best friend, the best partner, the best person he can be. Often, that means nothing more than just being there to listen.

He discusses how, in coming out of the pandemic, there’s so much discussion about mental health. Loneliness is increasing in the world as we’re becoming more and more disconnected from the things that have always given us more meaning than anything else: people.

We’re all dealing with something, no matter how good we seem to have it. The journey of life is largely about discovering how to use what we’re dealing with to make ourselves and the world around us better.

This doesn’t only bring us happiness, if it does at all. Rather, it brings us purpose.

Often it takes nothing more than a sunny morning and a good night’s sleep to get me out of a slump. We all know the feeling — some days our energy’s just not there: the world appears a little darker, something hurts, be it physically, mentally or emotionally.

To feel down doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. To feel lonely, or afraid, or just not like your normal, cheerful self doesn’t mean there’s something to fix. It means you’re human, experiencing the emotions of what it means to be alive.

Even with my best friends a call away, I’m often caught up in my head contemplating the best next step for me to take. I’m working on my problems, my worries.

But Sinek discusses how, maybe, to get out of our own way and out of our heads, the antidote lies in being the person who calls their friends just to hear them cry. There’s an entire industry dedicated to self-help, but there’s no aisle in the book store titled helping others. 

This resonates with me; but what if we don’t know how to be there?

Men are particularly solution driven, Sinek explains. If we don’t have a solution, we feel like we’re just venting aimlessly, so we’d rather shut down completely until we find an answer ourselves.

But often all we need is someone to sit in the mud with us instead of trying to pull us out. Women are better than men at just being there and opening up without needing to find an answer.

I know with the often perplexing journey of healing my back, I’m not necessarily looking for a solution; I just want to tell somebody how badly it sucks; I can’t expect somebody to give me a solution when I’m the only one who knows how my body feels.

I want somebody to sit in the mud with me, and listen. So that’s something I want to work on. Being a better listener.

I don’t think there’s a prize or a new office or a boatload of cash we’ll receive for being a brilliant listener. But if that’s the only thing one accomplishes in their life, being somebody that others go to just to talk, I’d consider it a life well lived.

To be a better listener, Sinek explains, ask more questions without needing to provide a solution. An answer is often the last thing a struggling person wants. Just be there. Just be.

Sinek likens our mental health to working on our fitness in the gym, as it’s okay if we have an off day in the gym. We move on.

If we’re still going to the gym every week, we’re likely relatively healthy. We call that fitness. It’s a consistent striving back to the middle path. Sometimes you’re in better shape and sometimes you’ve had one too many cookies at the Christmas party (hands up, ya, that’s me). 

Fitness doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it just happen once and then it’s over. It’s the balancing act of a lifetime. Sinek calls our mental health mental fitness instead. Just because we feel bad one day or for a week or a month, either lonely or afraid or just a little blue, doesn’t mean we’ve lost our marbles.

You don’t have to fake it. Allow yourself to experience the full breadth of what it means to be alive. That means emotional highs and lows.

Like Simon Sinek, however, I have an unwavering optimism that no matter how dark the tunnel becomes, there is a light at the end. Even when I’m down, my balanced self is the one that journeys through life with the faith that the universe has my back.

Believing that makes it true.

I’m shown, again and again, that even when I fall I have people to lend a hand and raise me up. I strive to be that person for others. When it’s all said and done, it won’t mean shit what we’ve accomplished if we have nobody to share the news with.

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