Today on social media, I proclaimed this as the year of rooting for people from afar.
I have now said goodbye to two friends this year, and it’s only April. I removed bot of those people from my life after working far too hard to save them from themselves and their bad decisions. I had the hard conversations, endured their gaslighting, spoke inconvenient truth. And in the end, none of it mattered. They didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to change.
We have an innate desire to protect the people we care about. When we see them headed in a direction that we know is going to harm them or others, we want to intervene. So, we invest. We put in the time. We try to make them see what we can see is right around the corner if they don’t change course.
But there’s a problem.
Not everyone is in a place to receive that guidance. Some people are in too much pain or fear to hear you. Others are lost, believing that their path is the right one even though they know it feels wrong. Some of them can only view themselves as the hero or the victim in their story, and will never consider that maybe they are the villain.
You can’t change those people. You can’t change them because they do not want to change. They either cannot see that their path is wrong, or they can see, but choose to ignore it because switching course would require sacrifice. To change would be inconvenient, unsatisfying. So, they stay where they are.
I used to feel that the right way to love those people was to stand by them, hoping that eventually something would sink in and they would change. I enabled a lot of my friends’ bad choices that way. In turn, they enabled a lot of mine. It’s taken reaching my late 30s to realize that friendship that is not rooted in truth is not friendship. It’s enabling. This year, I stopped telling my friends what they wanted to hear. I began showing up authentically, speaking the truth, telling them when I disagree. I resolved to allow them to be authentic with me, too, and to be open enough to receive their honesty. It has been life-changing in many ways.
I’ve had people walk out of my life. They didn’t want the truth, didn’t want to be challenged. They wanted someone to give them comfortable lies instead of inconvenient truths, so they left to find that.
I’ve also watched casual friendships become deeper, more intimate. Our willingness to be open and honest with each other, to show up authentically within the friendship, strengthened our bond. We learned each other in new and exciting ways. We began making each other better people.
The thing about showing up authentically and speaking honestly is that it can feel lonely at first. You lose people quickly. It takes a while to see the positive effects of the changes you’re making, so, for a while at least, it seems like you’re all alone. You wonder if maybe you’ve become the villain — maybe you were being too judgmental or hyper-critical. Maybe you drove everyone away.
But as those real friendships grow deeper as a result of your choice to be sincere and honest, those worries disappear. You realize that true friendship can survive the tough conversations. True friendship means trusting your friends enough to hear their concerns with openness and curiosity, to be willing to hear them out. Suddenly, you find more and more people being drawn to your warmth and sincerity. Your ability to speak your mind is a breath of fresh air to them, and slowly they begin to fill the empty seats left behind by the folks who left. From their seat at your table, they begin being honest with you, too. You watch your life unfold and blossom as you all show up authentically, sincerely, and with integrity.
When you stop giving your emotional labor to people who cannot and will not change, you find that you have energy to pour into the people and activities that fill you up. When you stop investing in the people who don’t appreciate you, you find more time to invest in the people who do.
Don’t be afraid of closing doors. Everything is transitory. Every closed door leads to another door that couldn’t open until you closed the first. There is light, and joy, and happiness on the other side of every door you close. So, trust the process.