“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined… You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends… if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 4.2.1; 4-5
“From good people you’ll learn good, but if you mingle with the bad you’ll destroy such soul as you had.”MUSONIUS RUFUS, QUOTING THEOGNIS OF MEGARA, LECTURES, 11.53.21-22
Popular movies and songs are full of stories of people who were trying to ‘get out’ or ‘leave the old neighborhood behind’. Why? They were trying to make something better for themselves. They wanted more. They knew that you must choose wisely your consorts — or else risk being limited by them instead.
Sometimes we have to leave old friends behind. I’ve had friends that I hung out with for years, only to realize that our only connection was partying. We hadn’t really ever discussed anything deeper. They didn’t know anything about me (or care to know), and neither did I. We had only ever gotten drunk and acted wild — and we weren’t going anywhere.
It stings, but sometimes you have to say goodbye to those friends in order to move forward. Otherwise you’re trapped forever at that level. To paraphrase one of Goethe’s quotes from today’s entry in The Daily Stoic, your friends essentially set your maximum. The people you associate with determine how high you can fly, how far you can go.
You need to carefully choose who you surround yourself with. They need to be people who will challenge you, and who will call you on your bullshit. If they’re constantly encouraging you to improve (rather than guilt-tripping you about changing), then you’ve found the right circle.
It’s easy to say goodbye to wolf-y friends, the ones who were never good for you to begin with. But those people that you truly love — you shouldn’t run away from them completely, because those relationships are important.
But you can start to surround yourself with new friends who support and encourage you in your newfound journey.