Things I’ve Learned From A Childhood Friend

I have met one of my best friends when we were 14.

Since I moved to the US 6 years ago we don’t have the chance to spend much time together.

Him and his girlfriend recently decided to stay with me in Atlanta for 2 weeks.

A lot has changed since middle school. Our careers, our relationships, our experiences, so many things that made our path different. On the other hand, spending time with him was like turning back the hands of time.

Why childhood friends are so special

For quite some time, I’ve been wondering why it’s become harder to make true friends as I got older.

I figured the cultural differences between the US and France had a role to play. For me, making real friends in France was somehow harder, but they would then become my friends for life. In the US, people are easy to talk to, but it’s often superficial. It’s very common for people to add you on social media after a random two minute conversation. Some would even go as far as saying “let’s hangout”. Next thing you know, you’ll have one more “friend” that stalk your Facebook but never talks to you.

There’s some truth to cultural differences being part of the answer, but the two weeks spent with my childhood friend made me realize the main reason why childhood friends are so special: We met them at a time when we were all in the same situation.

We went to school together, we studied the same thing, we’re about the same age, and we usually come from similar backgrounds. We were born in the same area. We tend to have the same interests.

Even though some of our opinions differ, we have a lot more in common than with most people we meet later on in life.

Getting older, people are harder to relate to. We come from different backgrounds, we have different stories, different interests, and different views.

You might say that’s the beauty of it, being able to get along and love people with different stories than yours, and I agree. I still think that because of those differences, the bonds created with people you meet later in life are not as tight as the ones you have with your childhood friends.

My recent trip back home just confirmed that assumption. I had the chance to spent one evening with all my childhood friends, and it felt like we didn’t have to catch up. It was exactly like back in the days, joking around and telling stories. Just pure joy and fun, no calculated moves.

Outgrowing your friends

Spending time with my friend made me realize how much I grew during the past five years, mentally, and financially.

Let me get you through some of my experiences that I believe created that growth.

After coming to the US for the first time, I had to go back to France for six months because my student visa expired. Once I decided to come back to Atlanta, I pretty much had three months to figure out how I would stay in this country, or I would never come back here again.

My back against the wall, my willpower had never been higher.

I was treating my job hunting like a real 9 to 5 job, improving my resume, applying to a ton of jobs, going to networking events, and going to job interviews. It took me the entire three months to found a job, but once I did, I realized what I could do when I put my head or mind to something. From there, my motivation only grew bigger because I saw the impact it could have on my life.

That was only the beginning for me.

When talking with my childhood friend, who I respect a lot, I was surprised not to see the same kind of will in him. I’ve always seen him as a talented man, but now it seemed like he wasn’t trying hard enough to move closer towards his goals.

I now realize how a strong motivation and curiosity can help push your boundaries in ways that some other people don’t. It made me sad for him, but it reminded me of how fortunate I am.

The importance of social connections

Not that long ago, I was with someone that has two kids. Once we decided I should move in with her, I became the head of the household almost instantly.

I was fresh out of college, looking for my first job in the US. I would soon grasp what it takes to provide for your loved ones, and be the man of the house. It was a great feeling to be surrounded by people that look up to you, people that need your support.

Unfortunately, we decided to stop that relationship, and I went back to the single life. Since then, I got used to being on my own, carve my day around my own schedule. Since I wasn’t depending on anyone, and no one was depending on me, I got used to having my space, and time.

For those reasons, having my friends over for two weeks straight was harder than what I anticipated.

But once my friend and his girlfriend left, I missed their company right away. I got used to sharing dinner with them, the genuine conversations and the other simple moments of daily life.

I need to make room in my life to invite people over more often. It’s good for me. That reminded me of the book written by Zappos CEO Delivering Happiness in which he mentions the importance of social connections and doing random acts of kindness for others.

Being confident

I used to admire my friend in middle school.

We learned how to play the guitar together, but because music was in his genes, he became a much better player than I. On my end, I had to practice every single day for an entire year to become a decent guitar player.

Now years later, I realize this guy wasn’t confident. He is so hard on himself, thinking everyone else was better than him. He has great talent, and he’s a very creative person, but when it comes down to his job, he doesn’t feel legit.

He started studying design on the late after a fail attempt at a career in tourism. Because some of his coworkers had “better” degree than his, or because they have more experience or spent more years in his current company, he didn’t feel like he deserved a promotion.

The thing is, even though some of his colleagues look better on paper, my friend is a hard worker. He’s devoted, which most of the other graphic designers aren’t. Some of them might be better on paper, but they’re not putting the work in, they’re not taking one for the group, they’re not interested. They slack all day, spending time on Facebook, only to produce the bare minimum of what was required from them. No initiative whatsoever.

Still, my friend feels like he’s behind.

Several times in my professional life, I’ve felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here because I wasn’t good enough. I felt like I had to fake it to make it. Most of the times, I realized that after a few months of being in the position, I was actually performing at higher levels than some people that were there for several years. I was asking the right questions and answering to the right challenges, thinking long-term.

The number of years in a company, or what’s written on a piece of paper someone’s owned in college, shouldn’t be the only thing that determines your position and compensation in a company. The output you produce should be the main criteria determining how you’re being compensated.

Aiming Big

For some people, getting a raise of $200 a month is considered a life changing event.

When my friend told me about the promotion he was aiming for I asked more info about his current position.

He has been in his current position for four years, and he seems to put the work in. He is a reliable and consistent worker, but still doesn’t feel legitimate because of his background.

Besides his lack of confidence I mentioned above, the other factor to consider is the high hierarchical structure of the company he works for.

Employee’s status are tied to various acronyms based on their level of experience, degree, and years within the company. Those acronyms are used as criteria when promoting someone. From this standpoint, my friend is at a disadvantage. As far as I know, this hierarchical structure is even more of a reality in France than the US, which makes it hard to promote people based on meritocracy.

Still, I think my friend should aim for more. He tends to use these reasons as excuses for a lack of ambition. Success is scary. Trying harder is scary. Getting out of our comfort zone is scary. Going straight to your big boss and tell her why you deserve more is scary.

The few times I’ve done something similar in my career, I realized executives usually like people with strong will. You shouldn’t be scared to come off a little awkward as long as it produces some kind of positive impact on your life.

Then he mentioned getting promoted would give him an extra $200 a month. That seemed like nothing to me. Now I realized it can still make a difference in people’s life but I also believe that you should aim for more. You might not attain your objective fully but 80% of $1,000 is still more than 100% of $200.

Like David J. Schwartz says in The Magic of Thinking Big , “if you believe you can succeed, you will”.

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Originally published at on September 13, 2016.

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