Think about your inner circle for a moment.
If you’re lucky, it contains a decent handful of people you love and trust. Friends. Family. Friends that feel like family. People to whom you’d give the shirt off your back and who you’re pretty sure would do the same for you.
Those guys right there – those dependable, good and honest folk you know you can count on – they’re your inner circle, your core, your peeps.
Now, step outside of that circle. What do you see?
If you’d asked me that a few months ago, my answer would have been, ‘not a whole lot.’ A few people scattered here and there perhaps, like those little white dots of light you see when you’re taking a visual field eye test, but nothing of any great significance.
There were people outside my inner circle, of course. It’s not as if I was living under a rock or going about my day without exchanging authentic smiles, niceties, and more with strangers and acquaintances. I was. I do. And those exchanges genuinely fuel my heart.
It’s just that I wasn’t giving much credit to the role these ‘outsiders’ were playing in my life.
I, like many, have set some pretty high expectations of people over the years — namely, 100% alignment, 100% of the time. You can imagine how well that’s worked out for me, I’m sure.
It used to be that if I wasn’t completely aligned with someone, I’d question the authenticity of our relationship. I wanted everything that was meaningful to me to be meaningful to everyone in my life and when it wasn’t, I was often left feeling unsure, even insecure.
Crazy, I know. I mean, there’s simply no way any one person can be everything to us all of the time, is there?
Our parents, for example, might cherish us one minute and emotionally suffocate us the next. Our friends might share our taste in literature but mock us for the movies we watch. Our lovers might embrace the sensitivity behind our kindness, yet find themselves tempted to run for the hills when that same sensitivity prompts us to cry.
Thankfully, my expectations are finally under control and for years now, I’ve been able to appreciate the value of those in my inner circle, notwithstanding our lack of perfect alignment. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve been able to do the same for those in my outer circle.
It’s not that I expected those I’d meet in networking groups and women’s circles to be completely aligned with me. I understood that we were weaving in and out of one another’s lives and then heading back to our inner circles. It’s just that somehow, somewhere along the way, I’d decided (or learned) that if I couldn’t be certain someone would give me the shirt off their back, I probably shouldn’t trust them, or the relationship.
As a result, I was shortchanging myself; biting off my nose to spite my face. I was undervaluing how significant these people were to my life and under-estimating how significant I might actually be to theirs.
How did I arrive at this conclusion? I’ll explain.
A couple of months ago, my childhood friend J told me she was thinking of flying from London to New York to see an English punk band called Idles performing at a bar in Brooklyn. Did I want to hop over from Toronto to meet her for the weekend, she asked. Sure, I said. Why not? (For the record, I don’t do punk.)
We hatched our plan and in the weeks leading up to our trip, she fed me dribs and drabs about some fellow Idles fans that she had come to know through a 17,000-strong Facebook community of die-hard followers. Some of them she’d met in person; others, only virtually.
I was originally planning to pass on the gig, perhaps kick back in our Bushwick Air B&B and do a little writing while she was out for the night, but she’d peaked my curiosity so I decided to step out of my comfort zone.
Who knew discomfort could feel so comfortable.
Within two hours of our New York reunion, the two of us made our way to the Lucky Dog in Williamsburg to meet some other members of the Facebook group who’d flown the distance for their Idles. J was greeted with warm hugs and kisses when we walked through the door. Upon introduction, so was I.
I don’t know what I was expecting from this crowd of people I had nothing in common with (apart from J), but I can tell you, it wasn’t this. I had walked straight into a love-fest — in a bar that permitted dogs, no less. (Punk, no. Dogs, yes. #win)
Idles fans from various parts of the U.K., Finland, Canada, and the U.S. were downing pints and gabbing as if they’d known each other for years. While a handful of them had, the majority were just a jolly bunch of random people who, over the last couple of years, had come together once in a while over a shared love for a band. Their energy blew me away.
The following night, Idles performed and that incredible energy intensified. The 1,800-capacity venue may have been packed full of strangers but it didn’t feel that way. Almost everyone and anyone you made eye contact with was up for sharing a ‘moment’ based on common ground. Their common ground, which I felt becoming my common ground.
That beautiful human experience continued further into the night when scores of euphoric fans poured out of the venue and into a local bar. More pints, more love, more huggy people from more fair cities, weaving their way in and out of one another’s outer circles without expectation. Just in it for the moment and loving it.
As I observed what I deemed to be J’s outer circle with a mix of curiosity, awe, and respect, I felt my perspective begin to shift.
My own outer circle is full of warm and generous-spirited people, most of them like-minded women. Granted, these women do not represent my core (although one day they might), nor are they the first I’d turn to in times of emotional need (never say never), but that doesn’t make them or the moments I share with them any less meaningful.
On the contrary, they bring me light. They fill in the blanks and make me whole. That’s the wonderful thing about having a strong outer circle. That, and the fact that you can fill it with whomever you choose — yogis, book worms, football fans, stamp collectors, church-goers, or maybe punk rockers — it’s up to you.