There’s an idea floating around on my side of the internet and social media.
It’s the idea that as a man levels up, he needs to end his old friendships who don’t share his level of physical fitness, financial stability, or ruthless ambition. As the old saying goes, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
There’s another popular iteration of the same idea: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, leave.”
These self-improvement tropes might sound good, but they neglect the total experience of living. They reduce friendship to, at best, a vanity metric and, at worst, a transactional relationship. Healthy relationships are not built on transactional value alone.
I get the idea of aphorisms like this.
You want to surround yourself with the best people who can help you achieve your goals. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time around any new friends you make, it’s sensible that you only want to select ones who can help you get ahead in life.
This is fine and noble, but it’s not the only reason to spend time with people. In fact, it’s not even an important reason for most people in most situations.
Think about how relationships with your best friends have grown over time. If you’re like many people, your good friends aren’t even in the same industry as you. They’re people that you’ve known from your childhood or from school and activities who you happened to vibe with.
When it comes to building yourself up professionally, it makes sense to surround yourself with people who have more and can teach you more. Assuming you’ve got some value to add, this won’t be too difficult and in many ways, it’s essential to your business growth.
The same thing applies to skill development as well.
In boxing, I experienced the greatest increase in my “boxing IQ” when I was training in Los Angeles and sparring with guys like Michael Hunter, Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, Cam Awesome, and other top boxers from around the country. I got better by surrounding myself with better competitors.
As Omar Little from The Wire once said: “How you expect to run with the wolves come night, when you spend all day sparring wit’ the puppies?”
But this idea strictly applies to skills. When it comes to forming a human connection that leads to healthy friendships, I like to think of what one of my favorite rappers, Jadakiss, once said: “I’d rather be broke together than rich alone.”
The idea here is simple: people and the connection you make with them is everything.
Close friends may get things from being with one another, but they don’t set out to be friends because of what they can get nor do they ghost on each other when one is in a time of need.
Good relationships with people lead to good mental health
We gain a lot from our social connections. With that said, this benefit only kicks in and compounds over time. A friend of 1 year that you only made because of a networking opportunity doesn’t do nearly as much for you as a friend you met in school and have known for 10 years.
Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying: there are instances where you need to cut friends off, but these have nothing to do with your progress or ambitions. Sometimes we find ourselves in toxic friendships that must be ended with force.
A friendship break up can be as hard to get over as a romantic relationship, but sometimes it’s necessary for your well-being. I can think of a few notable cases where you need to stop being friends with someone.
How do you know when it’s time to end a friendship? 4 major warning signs
1. Major betrayal by active commission
Once someone intentionally breaks your trust, only a glutton for punishment would remain in contact with them. Yes, sometimes people change and learn from their mistakes, but you’re playing the long odds if you expose yourself to this person again with the expectation that their behavior will change.
I used the phrase “active commission” to highlight a person intentionally and overtly seeking to impede your progress or tarnish your reputation. Betrayal by “passive omission” is another way of saying a person messed up, but they didn’t do it knowing exactly how they messed up. I personally evaluate things like this on a case-by-case basis and I like to use these instances as teaching moments.
Not everyone will have the same perspective. Maybe I’m just a big softy at heart.
Note: In this category, I’m including things like criminal and violent offenses towards you or the people you care about.
2. Repeated legal issues
Constant trouble with the law is a huge red flag.
At best, this signals low self-awareness and impulse control. At worst, they have underlying issues that need serious treatment before something bad happens to both you and them. No matter how big your heart is, I guarantee you’ll change your tune the moment you become collateral damage in someone else’s legal problems.
I once tolerated a friend for a long time until he got in my car with an unregistered firearm and proceeded to roll a blunt with marijuana. That was the wake-up call I needed to discontinue spending time with that person. This wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with those issues, but I finally cut the friendship off.
Of all the reasons to end friendships, this is the one you need to take the most seriously.
3. Substance problems they refuse to get help with
The same issue as above, except now you’re likely not even remotely on the same path in life. After a certain point in your development and improvement, you won’t be interested in getting drunk every time you go out or smoking pot all day.
This is why I don’t fault anyone who stopped being my friend when I drank. I was out of control. Support is nice and some would even argue that it’s what friends should do. I don’t disagree, however, there needs to be a limit to the help you give.
Otherwise, you ironically accomplish the opposite of your original goal–you begin to enable your friend’s worst habits.
Your never-ending patience is meant to help but, ironically, it does more harm than cutting them off ever would. You don’t dish out tough love, not because you love your friends too much to hurt them, but because you lack the toughness required to help a true friend in need.
4. Hate, jealousy, or downplaying of your goals
Look around at who doesn’t smile when you win. If you call someone a friend and they aren’t capable of celebrating your victories, you don’t have a friend.
You don’t have a supporter. You don’t have a fan. You don’t even have a neutral passerby.
You have a saboteur in waiting. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A weed disguised as a daisy. You get the idea.
This is the friend who will smile to your face to keep up appearances, but they’re always gossiping negatively about you. With friends like this, you won’t need enemies.
You might have a hard time figuring out if you have this type of toxic friend, but here’s an easy litmus test: do you feel better or worse after you communicate with this person? A common trait of toxic people is that they ruin the self-esteem of anyone they deal with–even their friends.
In my life, I’ve been friends with people who never had anything positive to contribute. I was either the subject of criticism or the butt of a joke. Or I was continually disrespected. I stayed friends with these people out of convenience and familiarity, but it’s not something that anyone should ever tolerate.
Every toxic relationship you have is one more relationships taking up space from positive friendship that you could have. You have to cut these people off because if you don’t, their toxicity will either drag you down or force you to become just like them.
People like this have either not accomplished much and they enjoy the company to their misery OR your success threatens them. Either way, this will eventually lead to betrayal by active commission.
Recap of the 4 Times To End Friendships
- Major betrayal by active commision
- Repeated legal issues
- Substance abuse problems they refuse to get help with
- Hate and jealousy
Outside of these four instances, I don’t believe there is any reason to actively cut off friends.
Yes, people fall out of touch. Friendships end and naturally fade out. Sure, one of the burdens of adulthood is that we end up living a life that makes spending time with true friends difficult. But these are the natural effects of a progressing life; NOT the cause of any one’s success.
If you doubt that, let me point out something. If you have perfectly normal friends who don’t fit any of the 4 criteria above and you haven’t achieved whatever lofty goals you have, they aren’t the problem. They aren’t even in the equation.
The problem is you, your weak will, mediocre commitment, and non-existent follow through.
It’s easier for you to say that your friends–who are likely living their own lives and doing their own thing –are the reason you aren’t successful.
If you do have friends that fit one of the four categories above, you have to decide how badly you want to change your life. Our environments are a product of our mindset as much as our mindset is a product of our actions. If you want to be better, you have to get rid of the negative, destructive influences around you.
Take care, cherish your friends, eliminate people who are actively holding you back, and live well. The rest is up to you.