As with most things in my life, this post is late, but I still felt it was worth writing. There are many, many things I love about living in Washington, D.C. (or, since we moved to the ‘burb last year, “the greater D.C. Metro area”). On a fifth-grade field trip, I fell in love with the grand buildings, world-class (mostly free) museums, abundance of open space, ease of movement, wealth of cultural and social offerings, diverse and driven population, interesting work and volunteer opportunities, and general sense that important things are happening here. I don’t even mind the weather – autumn is so beautiful!
Living in Washington, D.C. has one major downside, however – the dearth of family nearby. My parents and sister (and her family) live within a few minutes of each other in Southern California (almost 3,000 miles from me), while my husband’s sister lives outside London (more than 3,700 miles), and his parents are on the tip of the African continent (8,000 miles away). For my daily life, that means there’s no one to watch my kids sleep while my husband and I attend a parents’ meeting at my son’s preschool, or invite us over for dinner to give me a break from cooking, or pick us up from the airport after a long flight. Yes, I know there’s Urban Sitter, Grub Hub, and Uber, but paying someone for a little extra support is just not the same.
I feel particularly isolated from my family over the holidays. We were on our own for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s this year, all of which were major family events when I was growing up. Rather than sulk in loneliness, I am choosing instead to bask in my family-by-choice – the friends who have become my confidants, supporters, babysitters, and companions. As I made them holiday cards and thought about each individual and family, I realized that these special people actually play distinct, but equally valuable, roles in my life. As I tried to articulate and categorize these contributions, I realize someone much smarter than me had already done so, a decade ago no less.
Tom Rath’s Vital Friends demonstrates that the strongest friendships involve a regular focus on what each person is contributing to the friendship- – rather than the all-too-common approach of expecting one person to be everything. Based on years of research, the book identifies eight “vital roles” that friends may play. I found it quite easy to classify each of my closest friends into these categories, and after doing so, felt even more grateful to have all of them in my life.
- The Builder – This friend truly wants me to succeed. She motivates me, invests in my development, and encourages me to accomplish more. Rather than compete with me, this friend will go out on a limb to help me get ahead. These friends can be hard to come by, so should never be taken for granted.
- The Champion – This friend will stand up for me and sing my praises, even when I’m not around. He accepts me for who I am, and thrives on my accomplishments and happiness. My extended family tends to fall into this category, along with several long-time friends who have seen me through thick and thin.
- The Collaborator – These friends and I share similar interests, and because of that, they are often the people I choose to spend time with. At this phase in my life, collaborators tend to be those with kids around the ages of my children, since playdates are an easy way to socialize.
- The Navigator – This friend is happy to listen to my troubles, talk through options for how to overcome them, and provide advice. He is a good listener and offers valuable perspective without judgment.
- The Connector – This friend is the bridge builder who helps me get what I want, whether it’s a contact at the State Department or a babysitter. She extends my network every time I see her and gives me access to new resources. She inspires me to try to be a connector for my other friends and acquaintances.
- The Energizer – These are the fun friends who boost my spirits and create
positive moments in my life whenever I am with them. They have a remarkable way to know what I need and can pick my up when I’m down or make any occasion even more memorable. Whenever I am with these friends, I think, “I need to see this friend more often!”
- The Mind-Opener – This friend expands my horizons and introduces me to new ideas, opportunities, cultures, and people. It is easy to surround myself with people who share my background, education level, socio-economic status, political ideology, religious beliefs, culture, and interests. But this friend helps me explore beyond my comfort zone and makes me more receptive to new things. It is truly a gift to have someone like this in my life.
- The Companion – These friends are always there for me, and are usually my first call when something big happens in my life (good or bad). They take pride in our friendship and nurture it until we are truly more like family. I have had friends who were initially in other categories graduate to this type over time as our bond grew stronger and transcended the mutual admiration or shared interest that first brought us together.
Do you have friends who fall into these categories? I tried to figure out which type of “vital friend” I might be, and decided that I am a different type of friend to different people, which is exactly as it should be. It takes a village, and I am so thankful for mine!