Life Lessons #2: Not Everyone Is Your Friend

“What strikes the shell does not damage the pearl inside.” Rumi

Some of my readers will be surprised that I had to state the obvious. They know not everyone is their friend, and they generally don’t trust others until they prove themselves. I am just the opposite, and to some extent, proud to be. I live life with open arms generally, and someone really has to wrong me before they lose my trust. I also, perhaps even selfishly, assume that people I meet and befriend want me to succeed and trust me.

Boy, have I been wrong. I know this is not exactly the inspiring article you wanted to read today, but this is an article of honesty for those like me who trust too much. Perhaps we, like a certain Bill Clinton, want others to like us too much to the point where tolerate what should be intolerable. To those like me, I want to say something I’ve learned the hard way: Not everyone likes you. Not everyone wants you to succeed. Some people will take advantage of you. Some people will even lie about you. Not everyone is your friend.

I don’t care how charming you are. I don’t care how well you treat people. You may even give of yourself to them. If helping you succeed threatens their own success, or requires that they take a courageous stand on your behalf, or that they themselves may not advance if you succeed … watch out. Christian or not, nice or not, they will harm you most every time.

I’ve seen it among church staffs — in fact, I just spent an afternoon last week counseling a woman who was fired by a senior minister who most everyone I know respects, but he couldn’t seem to ever be honest with her about his issues with her. So he just fired her instead. I’ve seen those who others believe are saints cut people off when it was their interest to maintain their image. I’ve seen it among Hollywood industry players, and I’ve seen it in universities and in political circles. There is no place that is safe from the human condition of preferring that others fail so that you can succeed. Even worse is the condition which requires that we take pleasure in the downfall of others so as to justify our own weaknesses. “If I’m going down, you’re going down with me.”

So during the last year, I learned some hard truths about human beings and our broken relationships:

a) There is a vast difference between those who claim to be your friend and those who stand up for you when it is not in their perceived interest to do so.
b) There is a vast difference between those who will be nice to you, and those who actually support you.

Whether it is resentment, jealousy or some legitimate concern, some people really don’t want us to succeed. Other times, we really do make silly mistakes, and often are ignorant of them or their effect on others. In these cases, a true friend enlightens us, confronts us, redeems us. Those people are welcome on our journey. For those who would rather revel in our mistakes or our perceived weaknesses than to discuss them, good riddance.

Success, leadership and vocational fulfillment come to those who just keep marching to the tune of their own hearts, who tune out the voices of rejection and judgment, and who keep moving forward with resolve and courage. At the end of the day, life is about learning to hear the voice of vocation inside us, stopping to listen to the God who created us, and then tuning out the voices of rejection so that we become a human being fully alive to ourselves and our purpose in the world.

People can take away your job, or they can try to kill your life or your career, but they can’t take away your vocation. That belongs to God, to you and to the world. You can only be fully present to that vocation when you quit inviting those incapable or unwilling to acknowledge that calling in you to be in your life. Move on. Quit replaying the email, the call or the meeting in your head.

Quit entertaining demons. Entertain the angels.

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

2 Responses to “Life Lessons #2: Not Everyone Is Your Friend”
  1. Debbie says:

    I heard the sadness and hurt throughout the post, and was glad to read the last two paragraphs, as your focus back onto your God-given vocation is exactly where you need to land. Every talented, gifted person has his/her challengers. That is inevitable. While it is wise to move on from those who are not your true friend, don’t lose your essential trust. That is who you are and I love it and identify with it.

  2. grady says:

    Todd, could you e-mail this to me so that I can use it with a student in my Sophomore writing class who is writing about friendship and keeps coming back to the favorite Ukrainian cliche that a friend in need is a friend in deed.

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