“These are my people.” Why Who’s Around You Matters

I had been preparing for this past Saturday for months. Actually, let’s back up. I had been preparing for Saturday for the past year, since the last one of my favorite holidays to plan and to host: Friendsgiving. You’ve probably heard of this – basically the awkward “I’m not going home to see my family for Thanksgiving, so I’m going to spend it with my closest friends” kind of celebration. Or really just “I want to share this come-to-the-table kind of holiday with my people and I know it won’t happen on actual Thanksgiving.”

So naturally because I have no filter on my invitations, I invited 24 of my closest people into my home to share in a Friendsgiving meal. And over the course of the evening, I set my fork down multiple times to simply look around. Take it in. Remember it. I was looking at the people in my life thinking, “How on earth do I get to call these people my tribe?”

Some are pursuing degrees to become doctors. Some are entrepreneurs. Some have travel stories to last a lifetime. Some volunteer countless hours for causes they deeply believe in. Some are the most creative people I know, with their words, with their music, and with their lives.

I’m the kind of person who uses “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet” as a daily mantra. It surely goes against everything I learned as a child, but I can’t help but get so excited to learn what this new person is all about and how they contribute in the world. Basically, my line in the sand about who I call friend isn’t clearly visible.

But it hasn’t always been like that. I’ve been in spaces where I felt the need to run away from everyone and everything they’re about. And it wasn’t because they were unhealthy, mean people. It was simply because they’re powerful, confident, and doing amazing things in the world around us. And I’ve been on the receiving end of the rejection too.

Then a few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a beautiful answer written by a woman named Ann Friedman called Shine Theory. Basically she observed that – particularly women, but I’m going to say this could be anyone – ran away from people who are all of those things – confident, accomplished, powerful – instead of befriending them. And what she goes on to say is that when we choose to push people away who are all those things rather than move closer to them, it doesn’t help make us happier and healthier. Although often the competitive side of our brains thinks it absolutely will.

Who you surround yourself with matters. I’ve heard the advice given a few different ways, but the one I love the most is that you are a combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with. That hits me square in the face, thinking about who influences my world the most. And who am I choosing to put myself around. Because according to Shine Theory, when you befriend people doing amazing things, it only serves to make all of us better.

So of course there are people we are surrounded by that we don’t get to choose. Family and coworkers might be two of them. But who are the people we’re choosing to fill all the other hours of our weeks with? Who are we posting pictures of on Instagram? Who are we calling when we have exciting news or need to vent grievously?

Because if we’re a combination of the five people we spend all of our time with, then that means I’m making similar decisions than them, I’m talking like them, and I’m living up to the standard they’ve set for their own lives.

We choose or don’t choose people based on a few things: belonging, status, or safety. Yes, I’m sure there are so many more reasons, but let’s stick with these three for the moment.

Belonging asks if we are accepted. It asks, “Will all parts of who I am, who I have been, where I’ve gone, and what I’ve done be accepted here?” And belonging is a powerful drug. In fact, our need for belonging is so strong that when we feel like we don’t belong in a particular group or place, it shows up in our bodies like we haven’t had anything to eat or drink. So basically you could say we are starving to know and be known. When we don’t feel like we belong, we turn to those deeply seeded places of survival to find people, to find a tribe.

Status for the purpose of this really speaks to what will these people allow me to do or where will they allow me to go. Here’s what I mean by that. My friends love to camp, and I bet you if they didn’t like camping, I wouldn’t own a tent or a sleeping pad or any of the other fun little trinkets people who camp tend to own. If your friends like drinking, you probably drink more often than you maybe would otherwise. If your people take big risks, you likely take more risks than you might prefer.

And then there’s safety. This warns us about our basic needs being taken care of. Similar to belonging, safety wonders if the people around us actually care, like would make a sacrifice for me if I needed them to (and I mean like cancel plans because I need them, not necessarily take a bullet for me), would they go out of their way to celebrate and stand up for me, or would they stand beside me when the path ahead looks like it’s uncertain?

So what I’m trying to get at here is that when we choose our friends wisely, we choose our life wisely. We make different decisions. We have a different idea of who we are. We begin our days at a different start line, because the people around us have elevated themselves and everyone around them to a different, better, more beneficial place.

When we have people around us who are healthy, wise, confident, and discerning, we see ourselves as in a different light. We see ourselves as more valuable and of more worth because they help us see that we are all of those things in spite of what the world around us tells us. Because the most dangerous person to a world that’s hurting, that’s broken, that sees everything as a dark cloud is a person who has truly come alive.

Sitting at Friendsgiving looking around at a room of 24 of my people, I thought, “What a powerful force this is.” So what’s your Friendsgiving? Or your small dinner party? Because it matters for the sake of who you are.

I would love to hear from you!