The Flywheel of Friendship

A Few Years Ago... During my first year in San Francisco I felt exhausted by the lack of comfortable and meaningful friendships.  Moving away from phenomenal friends in Southern California left me knowing what I was missing in my new city.  And certainly I was meeting people, but we all know how different it is to carry a conversation with friendly people versus hanging out with friends.

The best friends in the world may always be only a telephone call away, but that very act of calling means that we are left updating each other about our lives more than we are ever able to simply live life together, creating new memories.  A vast difference exists between calling to announce a pregnancy, a new romance, a heartbreak or job promotion versus attending a shower, meeting the new love interest, sharing ice cream on the couch or toasting the latest achievement.

But knowing that a circle of friends does more for giving us a sense of belonging in a new city than having a home or job, doesn't mean that friendships just happen. Two immediate problems surfaced for me in my friend search that first year:

  1. More Energy Spent: The first, it takes way more energy to connect with someone I barely know than it does for me to connect with a tried-and-true pal.  After a long and exhausting day, if given the choice to call my long-distance friend or go meet a new one, it was obvious which one I'd choose if left to my mood.  Surely it takes less exertion to converse with someone I know I already like than to spend time trying to audition others for the role. Plus, way easier to chat on the phone while I make dinner or surf facebook giving thumbs up than to stop somewhere on the way home, extending my day.
  2. Less Fulfillment Received: The second challenge was that even in the lunches-here-and-dinners-there with new acquaintances it was never as fulfilling as the conversations with my friends who already knew my history.  The lacking depth, comfort and ease with acquaintances just couldn't compare to what came naturally with those who had already lived life beside me.

One can see quite quickly how tempting it would be to simply rely on our former besties or our only friend than to try to expand the circle.  If ever given the choice between something familiar and something unknown-- it's human nature to stick with the former.  My potential friends couldn't compete.  They would inevitably always fall short-- through no fault of theirs other than I was measuring them against women who had an unfair advantage.

The Flywheel.

From the business cult classic book, Good to Great, comes the concept of the Flywheel. The author, Jim Collins, describes it perfectly:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel--a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds.  Now imagine your task it to get that flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.

Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first.  You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.

My Flywheels

You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, and with continued great effort, you move it around a second rotation. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Three turns... four...five... six...the flywheel builds up speed... keep pushing... nine...ten.. it builds momentum...eleven... twelve... moving faster with every turn..twenty...thirty...fifty...a hundred.

Then, at some point--breakthrough!  The momentum of the thing kicks in your's own heavy weight working for you. You're pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but he flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort.


My Friendship Flywheel now has a momentum that cannot be stopped, an intensity that produces more energy than it requires. It wasn't always this way.  But it is now.

I still get together at least once a year with my girlfriends from Southern Cal and try to call them occasionally, and now I am also surrounded by amazing women who know my day-to-day life, who cheer for me when we get together regularly, who remind me that I am decidedly not alone in this city.

The first few turns of your Friendship Flywheel may feel like too much work.  You may think it's not worth the awkwardness and exertion.  You might be tempted to think it's not meaningful enough to sacrifice time and energy to push.  It may feel like the movements are imperceptible right now.

But believe.  Believe in the investment.  Believe in the Friendship Flywheel.  Believe that it will get easier, stronger, faster.  Believe that what feels unnatural this year will feel natural next year.  Believe that every turn of the wheel pushes you to greater chances of being surrounded by community in the future. Believe that showing up at a ConnectingCircle this weekend may be but one push to ensure that you have a good friend in your life next March.  It all counts-- believe.

What is the hardest thing, in your opinion, about making new friends? What takes the most energy? When are you tempted to feel it's not worth it? What motivates you to keep trying?


p.s.  Just wanted to share that I'm now a Huffington Post blogger for women's friendship. Yay! You can sign up on their site get an email alert when I post a new article each week, if interested. (I'm trying to post both here and there once a week each.)