A Navy pilot. Two Master’s students: one in law, one in art history (with a focus on Museum Studies). A bar back. A former youth pastor. An electrical engineer. Multiple thespians. A current church leader. Spouses. The front man for a rock group. Vagabonds. A former Army sniper. Miami. Atlanta. New York. Panama City.
Homebodies. Gym rats. A former professional video game player. Eternal bachelors. Netflix aficionados. Some have lived all over the world and some have never lived outside of the bounds of our shared town. Some have college degrees, some have GEDs. Some can take apart and rebuild an entire engine, some can’t change their own oil. Some have been married, some have been divorced, and some have never had a significant other.
These are my friends and they are as diverse as they are incredible. Diversity is important for a lot of different reasons. It keeps things interesting. It challenges our thinking and changes our views. It stirs things up in us.
Because my group is diverse, I see the world differently. Because I see the world differently, I act differently.
Because I act differently, I experience things differently. Because I experience things differently, I affect people differently. Because I affect people differently, I repeat the cycle by pushing those around me to see the world differently. Let me share a few simple lessons I have learned from my wildly diverse, ridiculous tribe.
Because my group is diverse, I learned to see the world differently. I intentionally try to connect with a lot of different people. This will without fail bring people of various viewpoints into conflict with each other, but that opens the door for incredible conversations and differing perspectives. It causes me to not only hear, but entertain ideas conflicting with my own. It is so easy to only see things through my own experience and frame of mind, but surrounding myself with diverse people forces me to challenge my own ideologies. They have taught me to see things less black and white and more as shades of grey.
They have taught me that people are not all evil or all good, but a mix of the two. I have learned that different doesn’t mean bad and scary doesn’t always mean negative. I have been pushed into some of my greatest adventures and forced to face some of my darkest demons. I have learned to not take things at face value, but to understand that there is depth to everything if we only push ourselves to find it.
Because they taught me to see the world differently, I learned to treat the world differently.
There is one major rule to being in my inner circle: do not be afraid to question me or my actions. I am not perfect nor am I complete, so I constantly need people evaluating my actions and lovingly pushing me to be a better version of myself.
Instead of letting me blindly be frustrated with someone or something, my friends push me to ask questions. This has taught me to take a step back in a moment of frustration and evaluate why I am frustrated. Is it really the situation or is it deeper than that? In the same way, my friends know that I am my own worst critic and so when I am being especially self-deprecating, they push me to ask what about myself is fueling that thinking. What insecurity, what fear is driving those thoughts?
If I am afraid, they ask me why I am afraid or just blatantly help me dispel my fears. “Take the leap, don’t wish you would have.” It has pushed me to sit in bars by myself and take trips alone. It has taught me to appreciate the small moments and to not rush through my life. Share the small talk with that barista at Starbucks, take that extra minute to slow down and watch the sunset. Jump off of that cliff or go talk to that girl. It has taught me that the smallest acts of kindness can sometimes be the most monumental; things like genuinely asking how someone’s day is going or covering somebody’s dinner that night. They have taught me to see the adventure in situation. They taught me to make decision that will make for the better story.
Because they taught me to treat the world differently, I learned to experience the world differently.
For years, my life was about points on the board. I was only as good as what I contributed. My friends taught me that I am still valuable whether I got that promotion or worked part time, living paycheck to paycheck. I am still important whether I make a complete fool of myself or I deliver the next award winning speech. Through that acceptance I have learned to accept myself: strengths and weaknesses, losses and victories.
Instead of seeing myself as a victim of my circumstance, I have learned to find the lesson in every obstacle.
Instead of running every hour of every day, I have learned to embrace the little moments. Instead of being angry that I am stuck in traffic, taking the time to decompress and think about my day. Instead of feeling awkward for being at a bar alone, taking the time to notice the people around me and engage them. I have created so many friendships from being willing to sit at Chili’s alone. Not feeling the need to have every night of my life planned out and sometimes just watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my apartment with one of my closest friends.
Because I see adventure in everything, my life became adventurous. Because they taught me to see my life as a story to be lived, I have stories to tell. Cliché as it is, they have really helped me to embrace the journey and not to be so focused on the end result. The end will come regardless, but the story is in the process.
Because they taught me to experience the world differently, I learned to affect people differently. I have always carried a certain amount of influence. Whether by nature or nurture, I have always naturally connected with people. Like a magnet, I just gravitate to people. I used to hate this about myself, but friends teaching me that I was worthy despite my actions helped a lot. Through that they taught me that I have a story and that that story matters. More so, they taught me that other people need my story. They taught me that through honesty and vulnerability, I can open doors that would otherwise stay closed. It wasn’t until I started to get honest and vulnerable with myself that I could get honest and vulnerable with other people.
They taught me that despite my flaws and hurts, my story is still valid and that gave me the strength to validate other people’ stories. Because they taught me that it is ok to be different, I can help other people accept their differences. People need to know they are not alone. Now I can help people see that their stories matter. Because a diverse group of people helped me to embrace the diversity of myself, I can help others think outside their own boxes and embrace their own diversity. So what do I have to say to my weird, diverse, incredible group of friends? Thank you. You have walked with me through some of the most turbulent times in my life.
For the rest of you, you have a story and that story matters. Embracing the diversity of that story will only make it better. It will make for great stories and even greater relationships. It will be scary, it will be uncomfortable, but one day you will look back at the journey and see how incredibly fulfilling it was. And a fulfilling life, that is the point, right?