“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.” – Epictetus
“You are your choices.” – Seneca
“Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
Mentor. Coach. Confidant. Spouse. Friend. Thinking Partner. Whatever we care to name them, these people matter. They matter because our life journey is anything but a solitary experience. As social beings, we benefit from our closeness with others, those among us and those who have gone before us, to become the person we want to be. Community is what fuels our perseverance, our lifelong quest toward achieving our purpose.
Our lives are the sum of our choices. Sometimes our choices yield positive results and make our lives more meaningful. Sometimes they do not. However, there is one choice that profoundly affects how we measure our overall life journey: who we walk with. And the people we choose to walk with are those we serve.
The courageous ask for help. The generous are willing to help others. If there is no “other”, there is no purpose. If there is no purpose, there is no service. We need each other to be fully human, to fulfill our call to serve.
The most fulfilling relationships are predicated upon candor, strong bonds of trust, and cooperation. These undeniable bonds enable us to accomplish meaningful things throughout our lives. So, with whom we choose to walk significantly impacts the person we are and the person we will continue to become.
In 1993, I had the pleasure of meeting my father-in-law’s best friend, Ron. Knowing he was a Korean War veteran and semi-professional baseball player in the 1960s primed me for what could be the beginning of a meaningful relationship. It quickly became not only that, but a whole lot more. Our connection deepened with each conversation. So much so, that when it came time for my wife, Kim, and I to consider resigning from the Navy at the 10-year point in our career, I asked Ron his thoughts. The insights he was willing to share on that cold Winter day in Indiana helped Kim and I make the decision to stay committed to the naval service for over 20 years. The experiences in those ten years following my conversation with Ron completely changed the trajectory of my life journey.
Embedded in this brief anecdote are three components to consider when deciding whom to join while on our life journey. These elements serve as guideposts for our lives and the lives of those around us.
Who we walk with must be of our own choosing. Psychological research continues to reinforce the notion that when we make decisions for ourselves, we take pride in making those decisions, which carries an underpinning of our drive toward success and productivity. And exercising our autonomy is fundamental to sustaining the intrinsic motivation necessary to continually honor those decisions (i.e. be fully committed). I chose to walk with Ron.
Who we walk with must be a choice based on the potential for, and eventual realization of, impenetrable bonds of trust. Because trust is a generative act, the strength of such bonds requires a certain degree of socio-emotional mastery. A productive relationship requires deliberate effort toward that mastery. The strongest bonds of trust form when character, compassion, consistency, and competence are all present. I saw the potential for, and realized, all four with Ron.
Who we walk with must be centered on pursuing meaningful relationships that foster growth. If we determine our existence as humans as merely objective, we’ll lose the qualitative measure of our relationships. It is the quality of our relationships that grounds us, clarifies our purpose, and provides the support we need to be fully courageous in who we are and who we want to be. My relationship with Ron helped me with all three.
The people we walk with shape us and present us with an opportunity to serve. We mentally walk with those like Ron who have gone before us and serve their legacy. We physically walk with those who are beside us and serve their presence. Who we choose to walk with matters. This choice impacts our individual well-being. Our well-being, in turn, influences the groups that forge our identity. And it is our identities that affect the societies in which we belong and serve.
For most human beings, meaning in life cannot be found without the presence of others. This is precisely why everybody matters. If we are to run to great purpose, we must be ever mindful of those with whom we choose to walk.