When I was a kid I struggled to connect with my peers. I was interested in a lot of normal kid things, but also a lot of obscure things, and I had very specific ambitions and dreams. At times I found it very isolating because I didn’t fit the kinds of routines or behaviours that would have sustained relationships. I definitely had friends, but while I was a child and even a teenager, I never felt like I truly connected with anyone around my age.
I spent a lot of time filling notebooks with ideas of myself in the future and road maps of how I could get there. Nine-year-old me would spend hours strategising: if I was going to be an actress, I’d need to study drama at school, do community plays and try to get into NIDA or WAAPA. If I was going to be a surgeon and work with MSF, I should be reading books about anatomy and science so I could get top grades and get into UWA medicine. If I was going to be a human rights lawyer, I needed to read about political events and study law, before trying to get into the UN system. On and on these hypothetical strategies went, because I wanted to fully explore the journey of each goal before I committed to trying to reach the destination.
I’d then try to run through these plans with my friends, but obviously, career-planning isn’t something ten-year-olds want to pow wow about. They just wanted to ride their bikes around the block and talk about cartoons. I’d be happy playing outside with the other kids on our street — but I didn’t find that stimulating enough to do every day. Maybe once or twice a week, I had other solo activities I wanted to do and plenty of ideas I wanted to think about in my spare time.
Understandably, the more I stopped accepting invitations to go play outside in favour of spending time on my computer or with my books, the more they stopped coming. I was confused because I didn’t understand how my friends couldn’t see that this didn’t mean I wasn’t interested at all, ever again, or was rebuffing their friendship — I just had other interests. Interests that I took very seriously.
More than being disinterested in my career planning, a lot of kids (as well as adults and teachers) had the initial reaction of telling me that my dreams weren’t achievable and that I shouldn’t aim too high or I’d get disappointed. This always astounded me — who were they to say that? Others had done it, so why not me? And why not them, too? They were often discounting “us” in the same breath — as though because I was proximate to them and in their world, their insecurity and lack of confidence in their future extended to me as well.
I was raised by a very strong and feminist mother who instilled ultimate self-confidence in me so I am glad I wasn’t shaken, but I started to really worry about the kinds of people I was surrounded by. How could these people be so negative? Why were they so insecure? What could possibly be wrong with their world views? And, often most prominently, how could I get away from them and meet people who shared my passion for manifesting my best life?
As an adult, these questions still come up and I’ve realised how important it is to surround myself with the right friends. People who are on their own path, but don’t project their insecurities onto the people around them. Friends who can celebrate your joys and successes, but also cry with you and listen when things get bad. Friends who aren’t ashamed to tell you about their worries, while also cheering for you in your own life, and vice versa.
Initially this was difficult. Someone who seemed friendly might have actually been malicious, anxious or unhappy, but I didn’t know how to read the signs. Being an ambitious person, I’m always aiming high and pushing myself, so when I finally reach a goal I want to have friends who will share my happiness with me. And when they are happy in their lives, I’ll always be at their side. One persons success doesn’t take away from another’s, and we can all be in different places and still support each other. Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way, but it can take a while to notice.
When I joined the Global Shapers community almost four years ago as a founding member of the Perth Hub, I was skeptical. It sounded great in principle, but from experience a lot of these ‘leadership’ societies turned out to be a lot of pompous, self-promoting d-bags. Still I went along and got involved, curious and with an open mind. In my experience the vast majority of Shapers within the entire global community are genuinely invested in making the world a better place, and are warm and uplifting people.
Since joining the community in 2013, I have for the first time really connected with and been surrounded by a group of people who are successful, but not motivated by the blind pursuit of it for it’s own sake — they genuinely want to create a positive impact. When your drive comes from trying to manifest progress not just to reinforce your own worth or accumulate material possessions, it makes a huge difference. Finally I found the positive, encouraging and motivated tribe I always wanted.
Through meeting and becoming close friends with so many amazing people through the Shapers community, I’ve also become better at understanding and assessing people’s motivations up front. They might be friendly to my face, but they’re saying negative and unproductive things about another person? They’re not someone I want to be friends with. They share their insecurities and listen when I share my own, but don’t listen or acknowledge my successes or happiness when it occurs? That person can’t be my friend.
It can be difficult, but I’ve realised that letting go of people who put up these red flags will only save me from disappointment and unhappiness later. The few times I’ve tried to push ahead with a budding friendship in spite of these warning signs, it has blown up in my face. They had too much insecurity, tension and unhappiness with their own identity to be open to a positive friendship. And that’s okay, that’s part of their journey, but it doesn’t have to be a part of mine.
Adopting this approach has also let me more easily recognise and invest energy into people who could become incredible friends, allowing me to form a number of deep and mutually respectful connections, and to rekindle old connections in new and powerful ways with the right attitude.
So here’s to choosing friends who make us better people, who let us love and support them in return — and to the amazing friends who have given me so much joy in my life: you’re deeply appreciated!
This is the 17th in a series of 52 Memoirs I will be posting weekly until April 2018.
My name is Keeya-Lee. I'm American-born, Australian-raised, living in London. I work in the humanitarian innovation / tech / social impact space. You can follow me on twitter here!