The More Successful Friend

Money (reais)
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I had lunch last week with a friend whose income makes mine look like pocket change. She has great jewelry, belongs to a country club, lives in a lovely, large house.

It would be so easy to not be friends. It’s hard when someone is doing so much better. We live in a culture where acquisition and showing off the loot — I’ve blogged here about “haul videos” — remains a national pastime.

But I’m grateful she’s my friend because I have a lot to learn from her. I wish I commanded the higher fees she does for similar work, but she has a few in-demand specialties — while I remain a generalist. (My choice, my fault.) She’s also a super negotiator. She may well work many more hours, or work smarter.

It’s too easy to envy another without admitting what we bring, or don’t, to our own level of achievement.

Most important, she’s still a friend.

I’ve seen a larger income, a proxy for “success” and the putative higher value of the higher-earning half, split the best of buds with ruthless efficiency. I lost a dear friend of a decade after she married a high-earning corporate executive and moved to a lakeside mansion. I’d have been happy to remain friends long after she left her single-gal-in-the-Manhattan-studio days behind, the long, boozy nights when we prowled the bars or danced ’til dawn.

But she had clearly traded up. Her husband was one of those guys who likes to talk about how much money he makes. Not my style.

The nature of “success”, certainly in some cultures, is that it’s too often defined as purely financial, because in a capitalist system — capital = $$$$$ — s/he with the most capital wins.

But many of us bring extraordinary riches to the world, in social capital and intellectual prowess and kindness and generosity, creativity or gentleness with animals or small children or those with severe disabilities, humor and forgiveness, a whole basket of good(ness)s that aren’t quantifiable by economists or measurable in the visible status symbols of Birkin bags or Bentleys.

To me, the measure of one’s real success is the generosity to share it. Not simply, as some do, by writing a check to charity, but taking the time, as I’ve done many times over the years for less-experienced writers as well, to share the skills that help you achieve it.

Do you have a more successful friend who helps you? Or vice versa?

3 thoughts on “The More Successful Friend

  1. cphocker

    I have a friend (supposedly and historically my best friend) who has actually come out and said (candor is one of her strong points) that she prefers to associate with those who are successful – and she qualified that as materially (financially) successful – than with those who are not.

    Not completely coincidentally, I have taken steps to reduce the contact I have with her, based on a myriad of other irritations between us.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    That’s her loss…People who define “success” so narrowly are missing out on a lot. In some ways, I miss my friend who traded up, but not really because if those really are your highest values, they’re not mine. Material sucess is pleasant but I’ve seen appalling behavior in the getting and keeping of cash that it, alone, doesn’t do it for me as a measure of success.

  3. jake brodsky

    Wealth is one of those things that is best when shared voluntarily. Wealth can come in many forms. Talent, resources, finance, experience, and more.

    Those who share will grow and become more wealthy. Those who are simply trying to get ahead all the time will be miserable jerks, no matter what kind of life they’ve managed to achieve.

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