Keeping it Real: How Humble Beginnings Lead to Lasting Friendships

On a hot summer day in Chicago, my two best friends from high school and I were at a nail salon in the West Loop catching up on life. In a brief respite of conversation, I grabbed the nearest magazine and stumbled upon Kerry Washington’s quote:

“I come from a really grounded family and I have three best friends from high school who have made it their job to remain unimpressed by everything I do…” Kerry Washington, The Guardian

There are very few things I can claim to have in common with actress, producer and activist Kerry Washington, but our perspective on building friendships is one. The more I sit on this, the more firmly I believe that the key to a healthy network is finding friends that make it their ‘job’ to keep you humble.

We all know that families are the great equalizer. No matter what you’ve accomplished, you are still daddy’s little girl, the kid brother or the geeked out kid with braces in your big brothers eyes. Regardless of our successes, these identities don’t change in the family unit. With little choice but to accept our lot, we are destined to spend our time within the family unit setting healthy boundaries to balance our own needs with the needs of our siblings, parents and children. The mere existence of a family requires an ability to fiercely define and defend your identity while constantly being grouped into another identity not entirely of your own making.

That’s not true with friends. In your own circles, you have choice. You can choose to surround yourself with individuals who only confirm and affirm your existence or you can choose people who call you out on your sh*t. You ‘lean in’ toward a friendship that brings you joy or you can ‘lean back’ in the socially acceptable world of Facebook thumbs, Instagram hearts and Twitter hashtags.

And in this way, I find a kindred connection to Kerry Washington. Among my closest friends, we all make it a point to keep each other honest, humble and self-deprecating. Our individual successes are not the measures in which we assess a devoted and meaningful friendship. Instead, we use our understanding of each others ethos and character to set the agenda for how we evaluate our actions as we move through life.

If I can piggyback off of Kerry’s life lesson here, it would be to strongly advocate that you, today, take an assessment of your friendships. If you are only surrounded by yes-men, one uppers and shallow complainers, take note. You can do better. If a friendship isn’t working for you, unlike your family, you can opt out.

As you grow older, you have to make the active decision to develop, maintain and defend the social networks that foster humility and authenticity in you. I know it is easy to do otherwise. As your networks get bigger and you experiences more conventional success, it’s appealing to make the world’s recognition of your achievements your identity. And, as such, even easier to surround yourself with others who have achieved similar accolades. But breadth does not equal depth.

We all have friends who can diffuse your accomplishments with humor, competition or disinterest. It is important to recognize the difference between a friend that keeps you constantly in gratitude versus a friend who degrades or humiliates you for their own gains. The latter is not a friend and has not earned your trust. The former, is someone worth investing in.

My two closest friendships, formed almost 20 years ago, are some of my life's most precious assets. They know me often times better than I know myself and are always open to offer up support, love, guidance and, at times, some self-correction. More importantly, in almost every conversation there is an active recognition of gratitude and perspective, even when we are complaining about the quality of our $5 lattes or Chicago traffic jams.

Having at least one true friendship in your life is a universal metric for overall well-being. Only when you cultivate a deep and lasting friendship that is centered on understanding your true character, can you actually have a dialogue around humility. Friends who actively provide gut and ego checks are vital in your ability to remain grounded.

Take it from my gal pal, Kerry, remaining unimpressed just might be the ego’s antidote to a well-lived life.