As a high school student, I was curious (double entendre entirely intentional). I read to escape from my safe suburban bubble and for exposure to new ideas. When I found a concept that rocked my world and challenged my assumptions, I sought other curious souls to share my excitement with.
My focus was directed just beyond my current horizon. I wanted new people, new ideas, new geographies. With the impatience of Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I wanted the whole world.
My hometown peers seemed provincial. To my elitist tastes, they were ignorant of global history and avoidant of exotic and beautiful cultures that were tantalizingly out of reach. My motivation to achieve academically was in part to flee the little taco stand of my youth in order to enter a mecca of cosmopolitan thinkers and doers.
I was insufferable. Your honor, members of the jury: I plead adolescence.
College was exhilarating – I was surrounded by brilliance. My campus contemporaries included the founders of Google, Yahoo, Paypal and Excite. My frosh dorm would produce a top executive at Dreamworks and a Major League All Star. The lead actor in our frosh musical would drop out of school to become a lead actor on Broadway.
A handful of overachievers from high school joined me in college, but I kept them at a remove in order to get to know the movers and shakers. I found an abundance of strivers, thinkers and doers, and considered myself lucky to be at a nexus of ideas and opportunities. When you get what you’ve sought, it’s seldom what you’d expected.
Those zealots who devoted themselves to great causes tended to be flawed or absent for their friends, as if giving everything to a cause meant having little left to give to the people in their life. Their particular movement – whether political, social or environmental – was all-consuming.
The creatives whose company I enjoyed were delightful at a party but unreliable as people. The friendships I cultivated among them tended to be one-sided. A few were narcissists. More often, the creatively gifted were organizationally retarded. I came to be disappointed by unreliable romantics.
There were even a few driven visionaries. They pursued their ideals relentlessly, but they consistently prioritized their dreams above their friendships. Sometimes they seemed a bit mercenary, at other times just absent-minded. You existed only insofar as you could help to advance their agenda.
I’ve accumulated a strange collection of photos over the decades of my education. Human rights leaders. Congressional representatives. Academic and business and public health superstars. Filmmakers. I haven’t dialed most of their numbers in years.
College was a time to reassess what I valued in friendships, and I raised the bar considerably. I valued dependability, presence, insight, and a strong moral compass.
After all my snobbery, I left college with a small core of friendships: most were friends from high school. They are still the folks I call in my time of need.