A version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.
I just got back from a week driving around Campania in Southern Italy, including Naples, the Amalfi Coast and the tiny town of Tufo. I was there to eat and drink but, really, I was there to see the remarkable work my best friend Patrick McNeil is doing there. Patrick, whom I’ve known for 15 years, is a homelessness advocate in Philadelphia and a fiction writer. Meanwhile, with his aunts, he is maintaining his grandfather’s childhood home in the rural Province of Avellino, both by hosting guests and, most interestingly, with an artist’s retreat.
Patrick gives me energy. That’s among the most consistent qualities of the people I care most about, with whom I try to spend the most time, those whom I’ll follow and defend. I think it’s something a lot of us eventually figure out.
I wish I knew sooner that the best way to choose the people you keep near to you should be a question of whether they give you energy or take from you. If I’m being honest, it’s really only in the last year or two that I really began understanding how powerful that is for me. I’m an extrovert so this might not follow for everyone, but I feel energized when I am with (the right) people. I certainly like alone time, and there are times when I love retreating to small groups or by myself.
Of course, we all give and take. But when I think of people now, there are many who I most often leave feeling stronger, smarter and more energized. Then there are some who more often leave me feeling something less.
What I’ve gotten better at is identifying those people whom I feel ready to take on the world when I’m with them. Those are the people whom I make my friends and my partners. Those are the people I am making part of my company. I will ruthlessly weed out those whom I think do not meet that standard.
Looking back at my life, I made so many relationship mistakes by ignoring this, by letting other people hang around me and take the enthusiasm I had for the world.
Don’t misunderstand, I very much want to give. But I want to give to those who have something to give back, those whom I cherish, who light might up, who energize me. For them, I’ll do anything. I’m choosing to be among those people. I’m distancing myself from those who do others.
I wish i always knew that. I wish more of us knew it too. Seek out those who lift you. Hold dear. Be kind, but walk away from those who seem to take more. It’s the only way to learn.