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A survey I did a while back revealed that about 40% of my readers have zero friends they’d consider growth-oriented, and another 20% only have one such friend. Many people who are attracted to my blog don’t have much social support for their personal growth pursuits. They often feel isolated as they explore different ways to wake up, grow faster, and live more fulfilling lives. They’re the aliens and oddballs in their social circles.
Over the years I’ve received many emails about the problems and challenges such growth-oriented people encounter. Working on their personal goals while dealing with social drag is a major issue for many people. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is dealing with your own self doubt when friends, family, and co-workers don’t understand or respect what you’re trying to accomplish.
Sometimes your decision to actively work on improving your life will stir up resistance in those around you. Sometimes people will get triggered by your actions or feel threatened or clingy. Sometimes they’ll even try to slow you down, although such reactions are usually subconscious.
You can try to persuade such people about the merits of your path. You can try not to let their unsupportive attitudes affect you. But in the long run, your best bet is to build a circle of growth-oriented friends who will understand, nurture, and support your desires. Such friends can also help you stretch beyond your initial intentions and avoid selling yourself short.
A Growth-Oriented Social Circle
What does a growth-oriented social circle look like? How will it affect you?
The main benefit is that you’ll have real friends who understand you and like you as you are. They know the benefits of pursuing personal growth, and it’s a no-brainer for them to enjoy connecting with you. Conversations flow easily and naturally. There’s no need to explain or justify why you’re exploring some personal growth pursuit. They’re a lot like you. They get it.
When you hit a snag on your path, you’ll always have people you can email, call, or meet to discuss your situation. People will happily give you advice. They’ll share resources with you. They’ll proactively tell you about new opportunities that might interest you. Instead of people sharing random Internet memes and cat photos with you, you’ll have people sharing useful leads that align with your goals. Your friends will know your goals, so when they spot something that could help you, they’ll tell you about it.
Did you know that every income stream I created for my business came to me through other people? Not a single stream was my original idea. I put my own spin on each idea’s implementation, but the basic ideas all came from other people. Other people told me where the diamonds were, so I didn’t have to go prospecting myself. I didn’t even have to search for publishers for my book because a publisher offered me a book deal before I wrote a single page of the book. I can’t imagine how many years it saved me to have a network of growth-oriented friends and contacts. These benefits are still ongoing. Whatever I want to accomplish of a growth-oriented nature, I have people to turn to for help. That makes a huge difference.
Imagine having a social network that keeps sharing practical ways for you to generate income… or improve your health… or enjoy fulfilling relationships. Growth-oriented people naturally do this for each other. However, they need to know you’re one of them before they’ll take the risk of sharing such info with you. People in this circle don’t want to waste their time investing in someone who won’t take action and who won’t keep the flow going.
When you have lots of growth-oriented friends, you won’t have so much doubt about your own personal growth pursuits. You’ll have plenty of other people validating the benefits of this path for you. You’ll receive positive encouragement and support. You’ll have people checking in with you to see if you’re still on track. People will care about what you’re working on and will want to learn from you too.
Life becomes less of a struggle. When you feel beaten down, people will lift you back up again. When you set a new goal, they’ll share leads and resources to point you in the right direction. You won’t have to solve every problem on your own. Sometimes people will even help you avoid problems before you get snared by them.
When you have a growth-oriented social circle, it also leads to invitations to connect with more like-minded people, even while you’re traveling. As your social circle expands, it becomes a resource for connecting with intelligent, growth-minded people wherever you go. I’m currently in Calgary, and it’s only my second time here ever. I enjoyed a stimulating discussion with several people about subjective reality during one hours-long breakfast. Tonight I’m going out to dinner with other friends, and we’re doing a video interview as well. These sort of connections happen effortlessly, even when I go to a new city I haven’t been to before. Once you have a big enough network of growth-minded people, you can leverage it for introductions and stimulating connections wherever you go. I think partly this isn’t because of the network itself but rather the expectation that comes from having growth-oriented friends. You expect to have that experience automatically, and so you do.
Of course there are the basic benefits of having good friends too – friends who like you as you are. You’ll have people to spend time with, share laughs with, cuddle with, and more. But instead of having to put on a social mask or hide part of your personality when you hang out with such people, you can talk about all the things that really matter to you too. You can talk about your life purpose, the nature of reality, productivity hacks, and all of your juicy and delicious growth pursuits with the same people.
These are delightful benefits to be sure. So how do you get there?
Be a Giver
One of the best ways to attract a growth-oriented social circle is to prove to the world that you’re a growth-oriented person. And a good way to do that is to help other people grow. Don’t just focus on your own growth. Invest some time and energy in helping others too. This can quickly transform your social circle.
For the first several years that I was into personal growth, it was mostly a private pursuit. During those years I read hundreds of books, attended seminars, practiced skills, wrote mission statements, analyzed my past, and so on. I did a lot of inner work. I occasionally helped people, but only on a small scale like in a discussion forum or via email. I didn’t make any substantial efforts to help other people grow as a regular part of my lifestyle.
For the most part, I was still the oddball in my social circle. I often felt more ambitious than the people around me. I lacked mentors to show me the ropes. I worked hard and tried to make the best decisions I could, but I struggled a lot, especially in business. In 1999 I went bankrupt due to racking up way too much debt trying to make my business work.
I came out of that experience with a very open mind. Going bankrupt was actually a relief, and it gave me a fresh start. I still loved being an entrepreneur, but I knew I couldn’t live the next five years like the previous five. I challenged my old assumptions and began exploring and experimenting with different ideas. I figured I had little to lose since my old approach clearly wasn’t working.
One of those experiments lead to volunteering in a trade association, writing articles, and reaching out to help others. Later I started a free discussion forum for indie game developers. I also began speaking at conferences to share ideas. I shifted my approach from working on personal growth in private to trying to be more helpful in public. My life transformed tremendously when I did this. My business finally started doing well too.
Within a year or so, my life was rich in growth-oriented friends. It all started with making the effort to help other people grow.
From 1999 to 2004, I did a lot of service-oriented work. This eventually led to starting my blog in 2004. My blog did well right out of the gate, but what many people don’t realize is that I’d been building up to this for five years prior. Before I published my first blog post, my articles published on other sites had already attracted thousands of readers. So I had lots of positive social support for moving in this direction when I finally made the shift. That social support made the transition much easier.
There was still some social drag. Many game developers and software developers think personal growth is cheesy, so when I decided to start a personal development blog, some thought it was a questionable shift. Yet those same critics love working on their personal growth. They just don’t label it as such. They prefer labels like education, skill building, social dynamics, and quantified self. The more android-sounding a label is, the more they seem to like it. But it’s still personal growth with a different tag.
The social drag didn’t matter though because I had plenty of positive social support. The positive social support is where you want your focus to be. If you try to convince the negative people in your life to get on board, you’ll waste a lot of energy and probably have little to show for it. If someone is getting in your face every week, stirring up your self doubt, or incessantly whining at you, then by all means let go of connections that are clearly not aligned. But otherwise it’s usually more productive to focus on adding positive social support instead of fussing over those who can’t give you what you need.
Graduate from Loyalty
What about loyalty? Shouldn’t we be loyal to the friends we already have, even if they can’t support our growth-oriented directions?
Questions about loyalty only seem to be asked by those who are being held back by negative social circles. People who are immersed in positive social support never seem to ask about loyalty. Why do you think that is?
Loyalty is forced obligation. The word itself is a trap used by clingy people to enforce relationships based through fear. Genuine relationships are chosen for mutual benefit, not enforced through obligation.
Do you want your friends and relationship partners to cling to you from a sense of obligation? Is that the kind of loyalty you desire? If not, then don’t be such a friend or partner to anyone else. Be loyal and true to your best self, and seek relationships that are aligned with your best self. Be loyal to your values, and let other people be loyal to theirs. Seek connections with people who are more loyal to their values than they’d ever be to you. Someone who’d put their relationship with you ahead of their highest and best values isn’t someone you can trust anyway.
An important corollary here is to get clear about the values that matter most to you, and do your best to live in alignment with them. If you value growth, then be shamelessly growth-oriented. Don’t hide your most sacred values. Let the world see you as you are. How else will other growth oriented people be able to recognize you?
Growth-Oriented People Are Looking for You
There’s a world of growth-oriented people that can be hard to see if you don’t publicly put yourself out there as one of them. If you’re always working on your personal growth in the shadows, such people will have a hard time spotting you. You’ll just look like another zombie going through the motions. You need to give such people a way to recognize you. If even one such person spots you, a single invitation can open up an entire network of new growth-oriented friends.
I was pretty shocked by how quickly other growth-oriented people flowed into my life when I started putting myself out there as one of them. It began happening from the time my first article was published in a software industry newsletter. My email address was included in the byline, and a few people wrote back to share feedback and thanks. As I continued down this path, there was a steamrolling effect. The more I expressed my values through published writing, the more like-minded people recognized me and offered some kind of connection.
If you were a growth-oriented person with a rich and vibrant network of growth-oriented friends, and you spotted a like-minded person who seemed to be all alone, largely unaware of what life could be like with a network like yours, what would you do? Would you keep quiet and let that person keep struggling, or would you reach out and offer some kind of invitation?
The counter-intuitive idea here is that if you want to receive such invitations yourself, then seek to become the kind of person who will reach out to help others. You can do that starting today. This is perhaps the most effective change you can make to demonstrate that you’re a good match for a growth-oriented friendship circle.
Otherwise if you believe you can’t help anyone right now, then next year you’ll probably believe the same, and the year after that, and so on. And growth-oriented people will continue to ignore you because you’ll seem to be too self-absorbed to be a good match for them. This is because personal growth is easier and faster with a network of givers. The more givers and contributors you see in a network, the faster everyone grows. So it’s just common sense for such networks to repel non-givers who only seem to care about themselves since that would only weaken the flow.
Start Giving Now
It’s important to give in such a way that feels good to you. This won’t work well if you’re too self-sacrificing or if you feel that your efforts aren’t appreciated much. It may take some experimenting to find the right calibration for you.
I love writing. For me writing is like a meditation. Combining writing with an Internet business is a great outlet for me. But for someone else, this may not be a good fit. If writing is painful for you, you might prefer other ways to contribute, such as by helping people one-on-one, volunteering, recording audio or video, starting a forum, or hosting a meetup group. Don’t feel you have to copy someone else’s approach.
Realize that you don’t have to be an expert to do this. I wrote articles about business success even before my business was doing well. I talked to people who were doing well and contrasted their habits and strategies with those who weren’t doing well. Writing those pieces was a great way to compile this knowledge for myself too. By sharing such ideas publicly, I received feedback to help refine the ideas. I also received lots of encouragement from people who applied those ideas to their businesses with good results. I didn’t have to pretend to be more successful than I was. I could compile and share other people’s lessons just as well. Many successful bloggers and podcasters started out this way.
You can sometimes make a profound difference in someone else’s life just by sharing a simple tip or observation. For example, I observed that the independent software developers who were doing well financially often spend about 50% of their time on marketing activities. The developers who weren’t doing very well usually spent less than 20% of their time on marketing (often less than 5%). Many of the developers who weren’t doing as well in business were highly skilled on the technical side, but they hadn’t invested much effort in learning marketing and sales. Just by sharing this simple observation, some developers shifted the way they allocated their time, and they saw rapid increase in their sales. I also applied this lesson to my own computer games business and saw great results.
You can become an authority by being a good listener and by paying attention. You can do research and share what you learn. You can do your own experiments and share the results. And if you keep doing this sort of thing, you’ll eventually become a legitimate expert in your field, and you’ll attract lots of smart, growth-oriented friends by raising your social profile.
Don’t assume you have to complete a big project in private first to earn the right to help people. You can find a way to be helpful starting today. Just go to a forum or a meetup group, and start helping out where you can.
Give sustainably in ways that feel good to you, but don’t become a people pleaser who says yes to every little request. People pleasers waste energy on low-value giving that isn’t appreciated instead of seeking meaningful contributions that fulfill and uplift them. They distract themselves with scraps instead of planting orchards.
The challenge of deciding where and how to give gets harder over time. The more you give, the more you’ll attract opportunities to give more. Eventually you’ll need to say no to some otherwise amazing invitations. This year in particular, I’ve had to say no to some invitations that I’d have jumped at in the past, so I can focus on the contributions that feel most aligned. It’s never easy to say no to the good in order to pursue something better.
There’s a social reason for focusing your contributions as well. After you attract a lot of growth-oriented friends, the next challenge is to attract friends who are strongly aligned with your biggest goals. Otherwise you may find yourself being pulled in too many different directions. Having growth-oriented friends with lots of different interests can be stimulating for a while, but eventually you may want some friendships that can help you stay focused on your biggest and most important goals.
Give More and Grow Faster
Be sure to align your giving and contribution with your personal growth as well.
Make sure that your giving continues to give you a sense of growth and improvement. Don’t let your contribution outlets become stagnant. Keep raising the challenge level. For instance, I went from writing about 5 articles per year before I started blogging to averaging about 100 articles per year since then. I went from doing 7-minute speeches in 2004 to doing 3-day workshops in 2009. If you keep raising the challenge level to keep pace with your growth, it’s less likely that you’ll feel bored or checked out.
Keep raising the bar for your contributions. Seek to become increasingly helpful by helping people in deeper ways, by helping more people, or both. Look for opportunities to increase the depth and breadth of your contribution. Don’t rest on your laurels.
The more ambitious you become about contribution, the more like-minded people you’ll attract who can encourage and support you in taking the next steps.
This will help you advance further beyond the limitations of social drag. You’ll meet people who strongly resonate with what you’re doing and want to see you succeed.
When you see your social support drying up – which may happen from time to time – that’s a good indication that it’s time to raise the bar on your service. Maybe you need to raise your standards for contribution by tackling something more ambitious and exciting, or maybe you need to shift the type of service you provide altogether to find that sweet spot of meaning and purpose again.
My last tip for building a thriving social circle is to be proactive about making invitations. Don’t wait for people to come to you unless you want your social life to be a desert. When you find someone growth-oriented that you’d like to be friends with, make an invitation.
Additionally, make it easy for people to connect with you, especially face to face. One way that I do this is with a Meeting in Person page on my website. I also added a Meeting in Person FAQ to make it easier for people who might feel a little socially uncomfortable, doing my best to reassure them that they can expect a warm and friendly reception. On average I do a few of these meetups each month. I include a map and the address of the Starbucks where I often meet people, and occasionally I switch it to different locations if I ever get bored from going to the same place too much. The point is to reduce friction to make it easier for like-minded people to connect. These meetups also help me connect the online work I do with real human beings that are affected by it.
When was the last time you invited a growth-oriented friend to share a meal together? It only takes a minute to send an email. But if you get in the habit of doing this, it means more face time with like-minded people. And it means more invitations for you as well.
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To build a strong friendship network, seek to become the type of person who’d be an obviously good fit for such a network. Be a giver. Contribute positively to people’s lives. Share what you’re learning along the way. Look for ways to sustainably deepen and expand your contribution. Express your values openly. Don’t hide. You can potentially inherit an entire network of great friends with a single invitation from the right person, so do what you can to make it easy for such a person to recognize you. And be the kind of person who seeks to elevate other growth-oriented people as well.