Yearly Focus

Early Thoughts on Relationships

This year I am thinking about the theme of relationships, as I described in my Yearly Focus 2021 plan. I haven’t been great about doing anything with the theme the last few years so I’m going to attempt to change that by writing some more – to encourage me to think. I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately though (I still owe an update on a 135 mile adventure I did 9 months ago…), so I’m going to time box this and see what I can get on paper within an hour and just go with that.


Who Needs Them?

The simple answer it is seems to me everyone successful I have studied as a part of my yearly exemplar has a handful of critical relationships. They come in all sorts of forms, but what is consistent as I read the biographies of people I want to learn from is a string of names often repeated.

My goal this year it to analyze the patterns I’ve seen so I can be a bit intentional in how I think about my relationships. This is one category that doesn’t come as naturally for me, so any success I have here is through luck or practice. As I invest time into it this year, I want to find helpful ways of thinking that can make things easier for me going forward.

It might be a surprise to you if you’ve ever met me, but I am a pretty extreme introvert. I don’t mind talking to lots of people, but I recharge by being alone. Not only do I not mind it, but I need it. People ask me how I can run without music, but truth be told I have no problem spending 4 days running in the mountains by myself without other people or music.

That said, I recognize the value of doing things together and part of investing in this area for my yearly focus is to find ways to get better at it.

What Types are There?

I write these words as the lowest authority on the subject – but here are some categories I’ve thought about and some of the purpose they serve. These are roles. A single individual might serve one or more roles and that might change over time.

  1. Family – the people you were stuck with by no choice of your own. The people that love you for no reason of your doing. The people you first learn to love.
  2. Bad Time Friends – the people that lift you up when you have nothing to give and have your back when no one else does. These are people you can trust and confide in. No one has enough and some people don’t have any.
  3. Good Time Friends – the people that you enjoy spending time with. People you share hobbies with and can enjoy being around.
  4. Long Time Friends – the people that have known you through enough chapters of life and can see trends and patterns. The people you have shared stories and histories with that tie you to where you came from. The people that remember the other side of the story and can correct your selective memory – for better or for worse.
  5. Acquaintances – the people you you know on a shallow basis. You have some connection but not a deep one. Sometimes that shared connection is enough to start something else later. I used to not value these at all but I’ve learned to appreciate them as a large pool of people that might see a relationship evolution as life’s curve balls are thrown at you.
  6. Accountability – the people that hold you to some standards that you value, but are not able to perfectly reflect.
  7. Romantic partners – the people that make your heart flutter and who make hours pass as fast as minutes
  8. Mentors – the people who you respect, admire and learn from. The ones that lift you up for no reason but that you appreciate every moment of.
  9. Mentees – the people you see something promising in and invest in for the joy of getting to be a part of their story.
  10. Comrades – the people who share in your mission in life and want to achieve the same goal. The people you learn alongside – each teaching the other.
  11. Rivals – the people who you compete with to achieve some limited goal that is not shared
  12. Challengers – the people that see the world differently than you and put you out of your comfort zone. People who have enough legitimacy to force you to reconsider your own values.
  13. Community – the people around you that ground you to where you are and give you a sense of place and time
  14. Expanders – the people that have seen a different side of the world than you have and who let you see through their eyes for a while and/or show you what might be possible

Which Types Matter Most?

As I think through a number of the exemplars I’ve studied – people that have had great success in their field – there are a few categories of relationships that stand out to me.

Mentors – almost all of them have a few people that saw something in them early in life and helped set them up for future success. Some of this came by way of paying for schooling or funding an opportunity. For others it came in the form of encouraging them to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done. They all have a few elders that really invested in them though.

Comrades – a few kindred spirits, equals in wit, that helped kindle the fire in their heard. I think of Munger to Buffett and how neither would have had the success without the other. I think ok Mandela and countless peers in the ANC that he protested with, was tried alongside, served time in jail with and eventually served as President with.

Bad Time Friends – every biography I have ever read has periods of great lows. Periods where the protagonist is lost or floundering and not able to right themselves. Every success story has friends that support them

Rivals – every Hamilton has their Burr. For many of us there is something very driving about having someone do tings differently and sometimes better than we can do it. A world in which you are the best at everything is very boring, having someone that is able to do things just outside of your reach forces you to push that much harder at achieving some goal.

What is interesting is that most of the biographies I’ve read have been written about people that are objectively bad family members, romantic partners and/or parents. I think that is because it is impossible to serve two masters – there just aren’t many people capable of doing both; something worthy of having a biography about you be worthwhile and being a good family member. That is an important signal.

Another interesting thing is I rarely hear about mentees of these exemplars. I suspect that is because the biography format doesn’t lend itself to spending the final chapters talking about all the time our hero invested in a young promising person that went on to achieve modest success. I suspect there are either; many mentees that have gone unwritten about there is another telling signal about the types of people that have biographies written about them and their ability to invest in the stories of others.