In The Fellowship of the Ring, the hero Frodo has to journey to Mordor to destroy the Ring of Power, a metaphor for (you guessed it) power itself.
Own quests may not be so dramatic. We might just want to find a good wife and raise healthy kids. We might just want to start a company, or master a sport, or produce a great work of art.
But regardless of the size of our ambitions, we’ll still have to grapple with the very big and very real thorns every human experiences: power, evil, lust, pride, anger, fear, tyranny, dishonesty (the list goes on). Like Frodo, we will find enemies who don’t want us to succeed in our “quests”.
Fortunately for Frodo, he is joined on his quest by a group of powerful strangers and friends knit together by a common cause of defeating the dark lord Sauron and destroying the Ring. They’re (as you might have guessed from the name) the Fellowship of the Ring.
We need fellowships for our own “quests”, too. Unfortunately, we probably aren’t the best at selecting them.
Accidental friends and fair-weather allies
Unbeknownst to us, we have slept-walk into many of our friendships. We have met friends at school, in college, at a job – our built-in social environments. It’s easy to just accept our friends’ friends and connections as they come into our lives.
It’s no wonder – many of us are trained from an early age to “be nice” and accept friendship from anyone. We rarely put up resistance or exercise much selection, especially if we’re “nice” people.
Look, it’s good to be kind, it’s good to be welcoming, and it’s good to be courteous. But it’s also true that every friend we accept into our lives has a dramatic effect on our personality and achievement over time. Every friend we keep will take up time and resources we could be spending with another potential friend who would be better for us.
Maybe sleep-walking into friendship is fine if we’re the kind of people who shy away from quests. But if we have quests – if we are “aiming high” in your work, relationships, and personal transformation – our accidental friends probably aren’t the kind of people who will be able to help us. If we’re taking them on a quest to destroy the Ring of Power, they will probably cut and run at the first sign of Sauron’s armies.
There is a better way.
Forming your fellowship
Like Frodo, if we have quests in our lives, we don’t just need loose acquaintances – we need the strong ties of companions and comrades.
The Fellowship of the Ring comes together across cultural, skill, and experience divides to help Frodo in his quest. They stick with Frodo – and with each other – through plenty of desperate situations.
They can do that because they actually have a reason to live and work together. Their purpose is not “hanging out.” It’s getting a job done. Companions/comrades – as opposed to our weak, sleepwalking friendships – will take time to make us stronger. They care about our improvement. They will speak the truth to us because they know we want to hear it.
Reframing our search for friends to the search for a fellowship is a powerful change in its own right. We start to be more serious about our friendships when we realize the stakes.
But getting these kinds of friends also takes intentional work. Here is an outline of how to start:
- Determine the nature of your goal: Set a quest. The length and scope of a quest will determine the depth and longevity of friendships. The goals which are biggest are also likely to lead to the longest, evergreen friendships.
- Pursue your goal, alone if necessary: Frodo is willing to take the quest of the Ring of Power alone if necessary. We have to be, too. Our purpose is not friendship. Friendship is a product of our purpose. We do what we need to do, whether or not the help comes.
- Find other people doing it: Fortunately, we are likely to find likely comrades doing the same kind of things we’re doing to reach our goal. If we’re trying to become the world’s best runners, our best friends are probably going to be runners. Similarly, if we’re trying to become ethical people, we’re probably going to find our best friends doing work for good in themselves and the world.
- Help other peoples’ quests: It’s cliched but true: the best way to make friends is to be a friend. If we help other people who are struggling toward their ideals, they’ll be more inclined to help us. If you share the same love, it will be hard not to become friends.