Just got a comment on "Having Your Own Ethics is Lonely" by a reader. He asked one of the hardest questions about becoming successful - what happens when you're improving when your friends aren't?
I found this blog because I'm looking for advice. I've realized four years ago that I was unhappy with myself. I lived a poor, and dead end life. So I decided to look closely at my lifestyle and eliminate some bad habits and replace them with good ones. I also got a second job to make more money, and lived in relative poverty by choice. And it worked! I'm healthy financially and I've gotten a chance to learn anything I've wanted to know. I'm strong and smarter than I used to be. I think I know what God is, and everyday I work to be better than the day before. But, I can't connect with my old friends because they do all the things I dont want to be a part of any more, because they dont care to do well for themselves as much. In a way, to put it bluntly, they're not usefull to me. I'd rather make friends with people I truely admire and respect. I dont feel like I can tell them that I basically think they're bad people. They've done nothing to harm me personally, but I want nothing to do with them. What do you think?
Indeed, that's one of the hardest parts about becoming successful.
Most people don't like to change after they get established. If you improve quickly, it can upset and turn off old friends and cause breaks in friendship.
Perhaps the worst time is when you're still on a shaky ground with your old improvement. I remember one time, I was going through a super healthy kick. Lots of gym, weights, very clean and healthy diet. But with one of my buddies, we always ate junk food together when we got together. Pizza, chicken wings, burgers and fries, stuff like that.
That was pretty much what we'd do. We'd either hang out and play video games, or we'd go to a bar, or we'd go to a cheap greasy spoon type diner. We'd have some pizza and beer, or chicken wings and beer, or burgers and fries, or something like that.
Most of my friends at this time were pretty healthy, as I was hanging out with a lot of athletes, gym-going types, and other fencers (I was an epee fencer back then). But when I got together with this particular buddy, we'd go get some good microbrewed beer and a couple pizzas and play Playstation.
To be honest, I never really fully answered that question. We kept hanging out, my diet would be shredded when we did, but eventually I moved to another city and things just sorted itself out like that. Now we could look each other up and it wouldn't be a big deal, because I'm established in my new habits. But when you're first trying to establish new habits and you're still shaky, yeah, that's tough.
I used to play a lot of poker, and I was pretty good at it. Lots of my friends were card-players. Once I quit playing cards (I should write that story up sometime... short version: there was an error at the table at Foxwoods, I pointed it out to a pit boss to save help one guy get the sidepot he should have gotten, and he didn't thank me afterwards... he started playing crazy, going all-in in the dark, built up a huge stack, and eventually broke my pocket pair trip sixes with a pocket pair trip jacks... losing me $800 or so... when I stood up from the table like a zombie, no one I'd be socializing with for the hours I'd been playing said goodbye, or anything conciliatory - that's when I realized I didn't want to have poker playing as part of my lifestyle).
Anyways, when I quit playing cards, I lost a lot of my card-playing buddies. Not intentionally, but these guys would mainly play cards in their free time, and now I didn't. I kept getting invitations to games and turning them down, and slowly we drifted apart. It happens, it's natural.
I've talked this over with other people who go on the rise in the world. Basically, it goes like this.
1. You improve massively a lot at some part of life.
2. An extremely few people might want to improve along with you. This is like, less than 1% of people. It might be none of your friends at all, or one if you're lucky.
3. Another small number stay cool with you and look up to you, and things stay good. This is maybe 10-20% of people.
4. A few people naturally drift off.
5. It gets weird with the rest of them.
Now, if you've never gone through a massive short-term improvement phase, you might not understand this. This might look bad or sound bad. But when I talk to successful people, this is damn near always the pattern. People will get weird when their friends improve quickly.
Well, not everyone. In extremely rare cases, one of your friends might jump on the improvement bandwagon. A couple of your friends will stay cool and loyal. But a lot of people feel... something... when one of their friends improves a lot. It's like, it strikes at people's ego. They see that you've got the same background and makeup as them roughly, and you improved. They could but they aren't... so in a way, it almost becomes like an insult to them that you've improved. It makes them feel bad and look bad being around you.
This is true no matter what you do, no matter how graceful and conciliatory you are. If you keep things the way they used to be, people feel like you're being condescending. If you act differently, they think you sold out.
Not everyone. Some of your friends will stay cool, loyal friends forever. But a lot of people are like this.
I know this might sound odd if you've never had it happen to you, but it's a pattern I've seen many times, and had confirmed by many successful people I've talked to.
So, what now?
Well, the nice thing is that once people meet you when you already have a reputation for steady improvement and coming up in the world, that's how they see you and they keep rooting for you.
The tricky part is continuing to repeatedly get out there, be good to people, and otherwise get exposure to many, many different people to see what kind of connections wind up shaking out.
One of the reasons I write all over the place, "Drop me a line for anything if I can help" is because that's how I've met some of my best friends. When you do something nice for someone, 90% of people don't really notice, 9% of people are really gracious about it but nothing really happens after that, but 1% of the time you wind up making a really amazing friendship or becoming colleagues or working together.
That 1% of the time makes it all worth it... making friends with someone you've got a lot of camaraderie and have great discussions with is worth incredibly a lot. I don't mean in just pragmatic terms - I mean, it's worth a lot on every level.
So, I'd recommend you liberally help people and make offers to help people and make yourself useful.
It's also a lot easier for some reason to connect with people who reach out to you than vice-versa. So you might consider doing some public work, like what I'm doing here. I try to get something of a reputation for replying and getting back to people, being helpful and cool, and then people reach out to me. For whatever reason, the rates on reaching out to someone from scratch are pretty bad. Obviously introductions work well, but that's a chicken and the egg problem. In the meantime, you might consider getting some sort of public platform, and then making it known that you're very cool when people reach out to you.
Final thought - I won't berate for it, I understand what you mean. But most normal people will. This line - "But, I can't connect with my old friends because they do all the things I dont want to be a part of any more, because they dont care to do well for themselves as much. In a way, to put it bluntly, they're not usefull to me" - you probably never, ever want to say that again.
That's not necessarily a good way to think. Maybe it's not bad, but it's not necessarily good either. But if you do think it, you gotta be more tactful about saying it. You really, really, really don't want only exchange based relationships in your life, as I wrote about here -"How to Avoid Exchange-Based Relationships."
Now, it's fine and normal and natural to look for people with shared goals and ethics, but don't just look for people who are "useful" - if you've got that vibe, people are going to be really skeptical. I met some people traveling through Malaysia and we just hung out and played Scrabble. They're not hyper-ambitious world conquering types - they're just cool, friendly, nice people. And we hung out, and connected some, and it was nice.
I've been surprised at the number of times I've met people with minimum common ground, but then built common ground on a new topic. I understand that if you're quitting liquor or drugs, then you might want to scale back the time you spend with your party-hard-nightclubbing-friends for a while. (Later, when you're more established in your new habits, maybe you can reconnect too)
But I'd go beyond just looking for people that are hyper-ambitious, constantly improving, etc. There's plenty of really good people out in the world who aren't ambitious or high-achieving, but are really pleasant company, decent virtuous people, who are set out to live happy lives and treat everyone around them with respect. Those people are really cool to know too, so you might want to reset some of the criteria for friends and associates you've got. Definitely move away from people that you're going to get sucked into destruction by associating with, but don't set the bar too high that you miss a lot of really cool decent people.
Best wishes and much respect on the journey, and thanks for asking a good question.