This past weekend, with the blessing and encouragement of my wife, I got out of town to go spend time with my two closest friends from youth. Like most dudes, my circle is pretty close knit. I read a stat somewhere that by the time men are in their mid 30s, they’re done collecting friendships. Basically, we ride with who we’ve got at that point. Personal experience tells me that this is largely true. As a kid who grew up in the military, living abroad and in multiple places back home in the states, learning to make new aquantainces was a necessary skill. Maintaining close, deep friendships was the hard part.
It wasn’t until high school when I met 3 of my life-long friends, that I really started to deepen my friendships. One of these friends lived up the street from me, his name was Josh and he passed away in 2015 due to cancer. I was a junior in high school when I met Yusef and Reggie. We were each selected to represent our schools to attend a summer long governor’s school program. Yusef came from Columbia, Reggie from Saluda (though he’ll try to claim North Augusta), and I hailed from the great upstate town of Anderson, South Carolina. We were the last people hurrying to arrive for registration, and if that wasn’t enough to unite us, we were each three black young men. This was the most remarkable part for me because until that point, I hadn’t met any other young black men who I felt where pushing themselves academically.
But here, in the flesh were two other guys who knew my experience of being the only black kid in all the honors and AP classes. They each had hopes and dreams for their lives. Ambition was our defining trait, but there was something more that we couldn’t quite name. Over the summer as we hung out and got to know each other better we realized that we also shared a few other traits, namely faith, an ethic of working hard, and patience. We knew we were going somewhere with big goals and dreams and we were willing to fall in love with the process in order to arrive at our destinations.
What started as a summer friendship with three boys who came from different parts of the state, grew into a close friendship over the years. Yusef and I were roommates freshmen and senior year in college. Though Reggie decided to stay in state and attend Clemson, he basically lived on our campus, and ended up years later marrying a girl from our school. We’ve seen each other through lots of twists and turns, and even though our paths have diverged into different areas professionally, we’ve remained connected by the values that united us in the first place. We haven’t all three lived in the same place together at once since we were 17, yet we’ve still stayed connected.
Over a decade ago we were all in Atlanta and I brought the guys to my office to do what we do best: dream up the future together. We created a motto, FHP which stands for the defining characteristics that we each embody: faith, hard-work, and patience. At the time, each of us were in different stages of our lives both personally and professionally, but we wanted to encourage each other to stay focused on what was ahead. Each time we get together that’s exactly what we do. Celebrate progress, analzye the present, and start plotting our next steps. We also talk about our failures and our fears. Essentially we share the real us with each other.
There’s a quote from the book Humble, Hungry, Hustle that I think underscores what we know:
Learning to share the real you with others will make your family, friends, and staff stronger and more authentic too. There’s a feedback mechanism that comes with openness: If you don’t share the real you, others won’t share the real them. In most settings, people are only as open as the person sitting across the table from them.
This isn’t a unique skill to us, but it is what makes us unique. Since we were 17, we’ve each had visions for our lives, written it down, and then with the support and accountability of each other, taken diligent steps towards fulfilling our goals. That’s the unusual part. I once gave a talk to a group of college kids and I shared with them that the best advice I can give is to do these three things: find your purpose, find your people, and take a step in that direction together.
So as you can imagine, it was like a breath of fresh air this weekend when we got to reconvene. Sure, we did some of the normal things folks do when they hang out, we played some golf (and I actually didn’t embarrass myself this time!) and ate great food. I rode one of those scooters for the first time while we were out gallivanting in the city. We also watched the documentary When They See Us together and couldn’t help but get caught up in telling stories of our own run ins with law enforcement and the lessons we hope to pass down to our children.
But by far our best times were the discussions. We got to visit the company that Reggie is now running and celebrate with our friend who is living his dream of being a CEO. Yusef, now a neurosurgeon, got to share the joys of simply getting to practice medicine after finally being done with over a decade of training. And I got to share my gratitude of being a husband and father, and everyday doing work that matters in education. When we left town, it was with plans to go fishing on our next outing and with a prayer. We each owe our progress to someone greater than ourselves and as long as we keep our own on the prize, I’m sure we’ll have even more to celebrate the next time we come together.