I have a good friend named Jeff that lives in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s one of the most genuine guys I know. Talented author and speaker. Jeff doesn’t just get servant leadership – he lives servant leadership. A few months ago, Jeff called me, deeply hurt and upset. He shared that he recently moved across town. He sent an e-mail to fifteen of his closest in-town buddies and asked them if they could help him move the following Saturday. They would supply the muscle and he would provide the pizza and beer.
Thirteen of Jeff’s friends didn’t even respond to his e-mail. And the two that did respond, declined to help.
I have another close friend name Marcel who is now retired and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He spent his entire career in the hotel business – the last eleven years as the General Manager at one of the most prestigious hotels in the country. A few months before Marcel retired, I took him to lunch. I shared with him my experience being a CEO of a large organization and all the “friends” I had during my tenure. I shared that after I left that organization, most of those “friends” I thought I had, all went away. I tried to prepare him that many people want to be friends with the General Manager of a fancy hotel – free drinks, complimentary meals, discounted room rates and even a lower priced wedding for their daughters! Soon, I told him, you will receive a gift. And that gift is that “you will know who your real friends truly are.”
August 27, 1988 is a day I’ll never forget. That was the day my parents drove me eight hours from my hometown of Suffern, New York to Greenville, North Carolina – home of the East Carolina University Pirates. I was about to become a college freshman. My mom and dad were wonderful that day – moved me in to my dorm room – 120 Garrett Hall. Took me to the book store, Walmart and filled my mini-fridge with snacks and drinks. That afternoon they hugged and kissed me goodbye and drove eight hours back to New York.
When I walked back to my dorm room and closed the door, I became overwhelmed with the feeling that for the first time in my entire life, I was 100% completely alone. That of the 36,000 students at East Carolina University – I didn’t know a single soul. Not one person. Not one friend. And the closest relative was in Raleigh – two hours away. I cried. I had a panic attack. And then I opened my dorm room door and walked twenty feet down the hall to the lobby where I met my first fellow Pirate – Garry Dudley from Richmond, Virginia.
Nearly thirty years later, Garry and I are still the best of friends. I served them champagne, when he and Monica got engaged, at the bar I tended during college. I was in his wedding party. Our families have vacationed together. And Garry still calls me almost every month just to hear my voice.
I believe friends in our lives are like pasta in a big strainer. In high school and college and in our early careers we spend so much time meeting new friends and throwing them into our strainer – like a big strainer of spaghetti. But as we get older (and wiser), those noodles find their way out of our strainer. And in the end, we are blessed to have a handful of noodles left.
Those noodles, though, will help you move across town when you need a hand. Not just for the free pizza and beer, but because you asked.
Those noodles will love you for you – and not the positions we hold – even if you can’t get them a discount on their daughter’s wedding.
Those noodles will stay a loyal friend for thirty years, even if they live halfway across the country.
My first book I wrote back in 2010 was called It’s Not Just Who You Know. The message of that book is still relevant today – choosing to build our lives (and our organizations) with genuine and lasting relationships. Relationships that are deep. Relationships that are real. Relationships that serve. Relationships that are authentic. And relationships that love. I call them Fifth Floors Relationships in my book – or you can call them The Five Remaining Noodles in Your Strainer. Whatever you call them, they are the same – real friends.