A Telescope and a Compass: The Kinds of Friends You Need
Last week, I couldn’t think of what I wanted to write in my newsletter, and I really struggled with getting words down. I had a blinking cursor, a few sputterings, and some rambling sentences, but nothing I could shape into a coherent essay. As in any case when I am procrastinating and worrying about writing something, I texted my friends.
First, I texted my friend Josh, who asked me a lot of questions, challenged me to be more intellectual, and opened up possibilities I could explore — uncharted waters in my writing, if you will. He dared me to attempt writing I hadn’t tried before, to share parts of my brain that I don’t share publicly very often. The conversation was a good one, but I didn’t leave it with any concrete writing ideas. Instead, I thought and stewed and twisted my hands with that dumb blinking cursor and a deadline staring at me.
So, before I completely spiraled into existential crisis, I texted Ron — my unofficial life coach. Ron is a good listener and an even better motivator. He has a knack for distilling everything I am experiencing into obvious, measurable answers. And in one conversation, I feel like all of my problems are solved.
Here’s a transcript of our text thread (paraphrased for brevity)
Me: : *whining* I don’t know what to write about. I’m in a slump. Everything I write is dumb. Why do I want to do this? I’m terrible, aren’t I? Josh said I should start writing about theology and politics and other important smart things. What do you think? Should I step on more toes? Should I challenge people? Who am I?
Ron: Let me ask you one simple question: When people come to talk to you and seek your counsel, what do they seek? Politics? Theology?
Me: Books. It’s always books. And sometimes life advice. Occasionally parenting.
Ron: There you go.
Me: HOW ARE YOU SO FREAKING GOOD AT THIS?
Ron pointed me back home, and by doing that, I unlocked my brain and got to work.
I have a couple of things to talk about with this. I’m thankful for both Ron and Josh. They are kind and smart and thoughtful. They challenge me to think, point me to things I need to read, listen when I’m struggling, and they make me laugh. And when I reached out, both Ron and Josh were trying to help me. I sought out a sounding board from both of them, and both of them gave me great advice.
At that moment in time, I needed a compass, not a telescope.
I was in the middle of a writing crisis (similar to Frankenpie, this was a fictional writing crisis of my own imagination, but a crisis all the same). Josh pointed me to possibility, and Ron pointed me home. Josh is a telescope, and Ron is a compass.
Telescope friends are inspiring and challenging; they point me to things I can’t see myself. Telescope friends put a different lens in front of my face and point out things I didn’t even know existed, places far away that seem insignificant. These kinds of friends can take something complicated and make it make sense, or they can make an idea from far away come up close and clear. Telescope friends show me what’s beyond my reach.
Telescope friends are like my friend Tiffany, who, when I pose a question, will always point me to obscure history or interesting literature or a great intellectual theory I had never heard about before. Conversations with Tiffany send me looking to places I’ve never known existed. She questions things that I never knew needed questioning. She points out insights from song lyrics, literature, Christian culture, politics, and history and weaves all of that together to the point where my brain explodes. It’s all very charming.
Compass friends point me back to who I am and help me correct course. Compass friends are like Ron, who can take someone like me who is freaking out about all of life and say, “Kelly, go this way. This is who you are.” They are my practical friends. Compass friends are like my friend Kristen who offers sound advice and grounding. She filters through all of the extra thought and tangents. She cuts out the fluff and gives it to you straight, and it’s always what I need to hear.
When I talk about what I’m experiencing or feeling, maybe what I’m handling with my kids, my compass friends remind me who I am. They are the “You had the tools to get home all the time, Dorothy. Just click your heals together” sorts of friends. Compass friends keep me humble. The world of possibility is all well and good, Kelly, but here’s how you get home.
I Need Both.
And truly, I need both kinds of friends in my life. I need good people around me to help me make good decisions, to open up my worldview, to remember that I’m a good person. I’ve mentioned before that my brain is an unreliable narrator, but I also really like my brain and trust it too often. And so, when I spend too much time inside my brain and not having conversations, I lose sight of a greater world. I need the counsel of my team — my telescope friends and my compass friends — to help me correct course and navigate my way through this crazy life.