For most of my adult life, I thought I possessed a critical character flaw because I don’t have close, lifelong friends. I’d look at people whose inner circle of friends knows what they were like in grade school, high school, or even college — and wonder what was wrong with me.
I look back on the ages of 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45, and my inner circle looks completely different at each milestone, with very little thread between. I remember the moments of the purest, most intense connection with people who now exist mostly in memory or the periphery of life. I’m often overcome with a nostalgic sadness and regret that those moments are no longer on the center stage of my life.
It’s taken me nearly 47 years to understand, but the impermanence of nearly all of our connections is a good thing.
There’s a well-known but anonymous poem called A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime? that aims to put the people into what I call buckets of why and explain this impermanence of relationship. The poem itself it underwhelming in a literary sense, but its central message is salient.
People come and go in our lives for reason. The people that intersect our lives are opportunities to grow and to help, and those that stick are the matches with which we light our purpose. Some connections are ephemeral, others create value for years, and in some cases a lifetime, but all are stepping stones of personal growth. When we are done with the lesson, when we have learned all we will learn from each other, it is time to part ways and open ourselves to new connections.
Sometimes these departures are soul-crushingly difficult. Other times, they peacefully fade. But move on they must. It’s the way we make room for what’s next in our lives.
Where I used to see the negative results of some undiscovered character flaw, I now understand the value of all the people who have touched and continue to intersect my life. Each of them shared my life for a reason, and have helped me discover and create the me of today. I am no longer disappointed that they’ve departed for another stage, but rather I’m grateful for the lessons they provided. I carry those lessons — and them — as a part of me.
Acknowledging this impermanence inspires me to be more intentional in how, when, and to whom I give myself. Helping someone become who they’re supposed to be is the most fulfilling thing. Knowing when to step aside to allow what’s next in their lives is a delicate and challenging art, but it’s how we ensure that our presence, whatever the tenure, is equally treasured in hindsight.