In these days of Social Media, don't be confused with the true meaning of the word "friend".
Those of you who know me, or read my blog regularly, know that I am a huge proponent of the tools that exist in Social Media. I think Facebook is great, Twitter is unique, and Linked-In is a Rolodex on steroids. They are all GREAT tools that help people connect with their friends, their prospects, their clients, their customers, and their everyday contacts.
But here's the thing. I'm worried that people are getting lazy with their relationship building, and that they think that all they need to do to build a relationship is to connect with someone electronically. I can't tell you how many people ask to connect with me via Linked-In, and then in the same breath ask me to recommend them. Why would I do this? Relationships need to be built over time, and the social media tools are simply that; they are tools to maintain relationships, not necessarily build them instantaneously. Trust in relationships is earned, not requested.
The same is true for friendships. Depending on your age, you have different types of friends. Some people still have great friends from high school, others have friends from college, and still others, if they have been in the workplace long enough, have friendships that have developed through business dealings. Whatever your category of friends, as you get older, and busier, and have more challenges in your life, maintaining friendships gets harder, more difficult. There is less time in your day, there are more pressures, more stress, and by the time you get home in the evening, you are tired and it is simply easier to take the time for yourself, and put off calling or writing friends for another day.
In my opinion, people who think that writing a quip on someone's wall, or posting a 140 character tweet will replace the hard work of maintaining friendships will find that eventually the friendships will dissipate. Friendships require more cultivation.
With this is mind, I want to share a quick, personal story.
Losing a Friend
I lost a friend this past week. Brian McMullen started out as a "work friend", but then over time, simply became a friend. Brian and I met when he took over the Managing Director position of a UK company with whom I had a partnership. He was 11 years my senior, and at the start of our relationship, there were a lot of contentious times. We both were stubborn, we had tense negotiations, we argued regularly, we were always disagreeing about money, and we each thought the other one was wrong more than right. But over time, our friendship grew, and it was based on two things; Trust and Respect. I always trusted Brian, and always respected him, and I like to think the same holds true for his feelings towards me.
About 7 years ago, Brian was diagnosed with cancer, He beat the odds, and lived through many surgeries, and numerous treatments. As time progressed, he finally left his role as Managing Director, retiring to a more comfortable life with his family. And even through he remained in the UK, and it wasn't always easy keeping the friendship going due to distance, busy schedules, etc., I always did my best to stay in touch with Brian, and see him at least once a year.
I was fortunate that I was able to see Brian on a recent trip to the UK, right before Christmas, 2008. We went to the pub, had a beer, and we laughed about the old times, and all of the arguments and disagreements that we had. We shared memories about the people with whom we had worked, and the trips that we had taken together. While neither one of us ever verbalized it, I think we both knew that it was going to be the last time that we saw one another. Brian's health was deteriorating, and it was just a matter of time. The opportunity to spend that last day with Brian, having a beer in his local pub, was more meaningful than I can ever properly explain. When I put my arm on his, and said good-bye one last time, I hope through my touch, he knew how much he had meant to me, and how much I appreciated his friendship. I also hope my friendship towards him helped ease his pain just a bit.
Work at Building Relationships
Here's my point. Maintaining friendships are hard. And in some ways, the maintenance is unnatural. You sometimes have to go out of your way to keep a friend, a friend. But please don't be fooled by the tools of Social Media. While it is great to say you have 450 friends on Facebook, or 1500 followers on Twitter, these people are not necessarily your friends. They might simply be nothing more than "mouse-click acquaintances". Don't get me wrong, they are great. They like you, they talk to you, they share stories with you, they share pictures with you, but I'm not certain you'd feel an emptiness if they "unfriend" you. They are, for lack of a better term, "social media friends."
Take some advice from a guy with some experience in life and in business. Work at maintaining your relationships. Fight to keep your friendships. It takes significant time, it takes a lot of effort, but it is all so worth it. Clicking on a button that says, "Be my Friend" is simply not enough.
As for my friend Brian, who I am pleased to say was my friend for 15 years, I honor him by using our friendship as an example of what happens when you work at keeping the friendship. Build relationships; strong meaningful relationships. Your life, both business and personal, will be so much more fulfilling. And you will feel less empty, less lost, when you do as I do today, and say one last time...
Good-bye my friend.