On the edge of a world

I received a two-word message recently from a friend: "Coffee soon?"

We get together every few weeks and catch up. Our conversations wander through work and life, music and movies, trips and pets, wishes for the future and lessons learned. I love it every single time.

It doesn't just happen, though, and without our (well, his in this case) best efforts, it would soon be a distant memory. We don't work together, live in the same neighborhood, or share a college campus. We're not going to bump into each other.

Years ago, I thought friendships were about taking turns. I invite someone over, send an email, maybe even dial their number when that was still a thing. Then, I wait for them to return the favor. In my mind, I'm embarrassed to admit, was essentially a scoreboard and if things became too one-sided, it was a sign that I should take a break.

I remember wondering what would happen if I stopped reaching out to someone. Would I ever hear from them again? If not, is it really a friendship?

Then one day, I realized how much that was costing me, how many conversations and laughs I was missing. I realized that friendships are worth being intentional about and if that's the part I'm good at, then I will happily play it.

Now, I actually have reminders set to check in with friends near and far, as funny as that sounds. Otherwise it's easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and allow the distance to grow.

Social networks have sometimes been a crutch for me, providing a sense that I was connected to people when I really wasn't. The less I use them, the more I have to deliberately seek out those conversations. I'm grateful for each one, and always eager for the next.

Send someone you haven't talked to for awhile a note this week and see if they'd like to meet over coffee or a meal (or an internet connection, if they're far away.) Everyone loves to be asked.

Let's reclaim the friend request.


The latest dispatch asked, What three words would others use to describe you in high school? What three words would you use?

etherbrian wrote:

Others: Beatles? Blech. Journey! Me: Hello, ladies! …Hello?

Sara wrote:

I was sifting through some old journals from high school a couple weeks ago and was reminded that I asked this question a lot. It served as a filtering mechanism for boys who I was interested in, or who were interested in me. One boy who sat in front of me in French class described me as “persistent, interrogative, and precocious”. He never really liked me back. Another, who’s affections I didn’t return, described me as “mysterious, intellectually-advanced, and sexy.” He was trying too hard. And another asked troublingly, “What is an adjective?” That was the end of that conversation. Asking for three adjectives was as much about fulfilling a self-defining curiosity as it was a means to judge the vocabulary (and worthiness) of potential suitors. Looking back, I would describe myself as inquisitive, discerning, and principled.

Stephen wrote:

Angsty Halo Geek. Self described and proud of it. Made for some classic teenage memories.

Marko wrote:

Others: quiet, reserved, asian. Me: quiet, loner, singer

Ellie wrote:

Others: Difficult to pigeonhole. Me: studious; independent; biker. I had been very unhappy at school and strongly felt I did not belong, but my high school years were at a sixth form college where I found a places I seemed to fit in the world for a while. Now at a point in my life where I am feeling uncertain and a little lost and on the edge of a world, where, once again, I do not quite seem to fit, it is good to remember that there have been many moments in my life where I have felt a sense of belonging and that these times will come again.

Drew wrote:

Searching – high school was a time of discovery. Trying on and trying out so many new ideas, activities. I loved the New Zealand new wave band, Split Enz, which was also the deciding factor in not one, but two ill-conceived perms. (Don't judge.) Lonely – high school was not the best fit. I struggled to connect with those around me and looking back I don't think I was the only one. It seemed that the effort to find and create oneself was a very solitary pursuit. Joyous – regardless of the bouts of loneliness I also had times of extreme joy. I discovered theatre. I forged a lifelong friendship. I got very good at kissing; as indicated by the fact that after spending so many hours one time I almost caused my jaw to seize up. (It goes without saying that I'm still into it! <grin>)

Erin wrote:

Others: goody-goody, know-it-all, hyper. Me: insecure, depressed, trying-too-hard. Luckily, I am an entirely different person than I was then, even if a few of those traits do peek through every now and then. High school was rough, but it made me who I am today and I am very happy with who that is.

Ryan wrote:

Others: Smug Music Nerd. I was not one tiny bit cool, and I had a bit of a chip (okay, a really big chip) on my shoulder after enduring years of harassment before arriving at a new school where I discovered I was smarter and better-educated than most of my peers. Fortunately, a few like-minded people befriended me—mostly sweet-natured fellow nerds and a few cool kids in the choir—and I think they helped me turn out more or less okay. Me: Smart, Spiritual Musician. To the extent that I had any clear identity, I identified myself by my intelligence (see above), by involvement in every musical group I was qualified (and not qualified) for, and by conformity to the Standard Evangelical Model™ of a young “spiritual leader”. Oddly enough, while I now try to avoid identifying myself using adjectives, the one noun among those three words only applies if car-singing counts.

Brad wrote:

Others, about me: quiet, aloof, nondescript. Myself, about me: quiet, thoughtful, determined. I suppose I should reflect on these word choices for illumination. I didn't engage with many people in high school outside of a small core group of friends. I was known, but not popular. I cultivated a healthy disdain for most school activities under the belief that they were corny or inauthentic. I applied effort to only those pursuits in which I wanted to grow, and in those my perseverance was rarely matched. In most subjects I did enough to get by and escape notice because they didn't interest me. I think the biggest change between then and now (which thought exercise I take to be a corollary of the prompt) is the first word: quiet. I wouldn't describe myself as quiet anymore and I don't think many others would either. My quietness in high school was purposeful and controlled: I wasn't particularly shy or unsure, I just didn't have much to say because I was focused on learning—about people, work, power, reputation and much more; not much of consequence from academics. Now I know a few things and I have applied them, mostly in a work environment, which gives me a good amount to say. I'm also less guarded with my thoughts these days because I have found many great people willing to listen and discuss my often far-flung philosophical cogitations. The importance of these other uncommon people, passionate about learning and applying themselves by writing, creating, thinking and teaching, can't be overestimated. This is why I care about Uncommon and the community we are creating; it's the group of friends whom I would rather never leave.

Uncommon reads

Jonathan Harris on getting unstuck:

We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.<br><br>In the tradeoff between timeliness and timelessness, choose the latter. The zeitgeist rewards timeliness, but your soul rewards timelessness. Work on things that will last.

Megan Garber talks with Sherry Turkle about Saving the Lost Art of Conversation:

We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.

Your turn

Who was your first best friend?