True friends don’t help you problem solve

“Michelle, I have two Excel files of email subscribers. One has titles and company attached and the other does not. Can I copy data from the first file to the second? Is that possible?”

“Oh it’s definitely possible. Are you in your second file?”

It was 7:45 in the morning—Eastern time, mind you—and I was on the phone with my college roommate located in Milwaukee (that’s in Wisconsin for those of you who can’t navigate basic geography). The woman who once helped me prepare for my Calculus final was helping me prepare for a meeting with my CEO.

“Click the first cell. Type this: Equals-INDEX-open parenthesis-click your second file-comma-MATCH-open parenthesis…”

And in what seemed like a complete foreign language, she rattled off a formula while eating breakfast cereal.

By the time I hung up, about half my coworkers had arrived for the day and wanted to know who in God’s name I was talking to. When I told them it was my college roommate they said, “Just what kind of roommate do you have??”

The saint kind.

There are few things I value more than friendship.

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with I’ll-go-out-of-my-way-for-you kind of people. I’ve leaned on them through breakups, bad days, and being fired.

I’ve also leaned on them through things which—let’s face it—were not a big deal. Things that seemed to be the coming of the apocalypse at the time, did not (shocker) have great impact on my life.

Our first semester of college, when Michelle and I were “just” roommates and before I knew we would be lifelong friends, I had plans to go watch a former teammate run a cross-country race at Notre Dame. I set my alarm for 5:30AM so I could make it to Indiana before the gun went off.

When you sleep through an alarm, which I’m sure you have, you wake up with the same feeling as being flung out of a twelve-story window. And when I woke up and let out a scream as if I had woken up next to a dead body, my roommate of one month did not roll over or cover her face with a pillow.

Because this was not your average roommate.

True friends aren’t there to problem solve. They’re there to make your problems their own.

The great thing about Michelle (and so many of my friends) is she never made me feel irrational. She understood that unimportant things (i.e. sleeping through an alarm), would sometimes be important to me. And that was enough.

She jumped down from her bunk, and started printing out directions to Notre Dame on Google Maps.

Nine years later, in an office instead of a dorm room, I can still wake-up my roommate for help on my trivial first-world problems.

I’m sure Michelle would love to eat her Kix in peace, and head to her own 9-5 before reciting Excel formulas. I’m sure she’s thought, “For the love of God, just Google it,” when I call her before the workday.

The great thing about friends—particularly the good ones—is they understand the concept of relative importance. Even if they have the wisdom and foresight to explain the insignificance of your problems, to rationalize and say, “In a year, this won’t matter,” they don’t. They take the stance that if it matters to you it matters to them, and therefore it is their problem as well as yours.

My friend Paula once took a six-hour bus ride to visit me because I had a bad day. I once cancelled a flight because a friend went through a breakup. It’s not about being rational; it’s not about having a solution to the problem. It’s about taking on a problem that is not you own and has absolutely nothing to do with you. And when asked why you would ever take on more problems than the world gave you, your only response is, “Because you would do the same for me.”

  1. How about friends who text you out of the blue periodically just to make sure you’re still alive, even though you’ve only met in person once and they are in no way obligated to worry about you?

    You’re no slouch in the friend department either 🙂

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