How do you work on making and maintaining friendships as you age? Do you have the same type of friends in your 30s as you did in college or high school? In this two-part episode, we hit on a number of deep and insightful points on how we've made and maintained our friendships, what we value in others, the challenges and burden of toxic relationships and so much more.
Guest Bio: John Gray Williams currently serves as the Director of Recruitment for the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, and has been in that role since 2015. Prior to that, he worked for five years as a Career Counselor, and had a brief three year stint as an Urban Planner for a civil engineering firm. He holds an M.A. in Counseling from the University of Delaware and B.A.s in Geography and Urban Planning, both from Virginia Tech. He is passionate about social justice work, especially as it relates to LGBTQ, women, and people of color, as well as increasing college access for first-generation and low-income students. He is also a self-identified "map nerd" who loves to travel. He has been on two cross-country road trips, and visited 47 US states and 10 foreign countries. He is passionate about people and hookah, and often finds that the two go hand-in-hand.
Mentioned in this Episode
Bagel: [00:00:00] Hey there, listener it's me, Bagel. I'm so glad you're listening to this episode of LYV with special guest, John Gray Williams. Where we explore how we've gone about making and maintaining friendships throughout our lives and how that has looked different, depending on our life stages.
If you don't know JG, he pretty much lights up any room he's in. One of the most real, down to earth, authentic, empathic, and sometimes sassy people I know. In this two-part episode, we hit on a number of deep and insightful points on how we've made and maintained our friendships, what we value in others, the challenges and burden of toxic relationships and so much more.
John Gray's unique ability to share personal examples and relate them to common experiences allowed this conversation to shine. I can't wait for you to dive in. So grab a nice brew and let's get into episode eight with the legend himself, Mr. John Gray Williams.
Welcome to the Live Your Values podcast. I'm your host Mike Bagel. Today, I am beyond excited to welcome our guest for today's episode. John Gray Williams currently serves as the Director of Recruitment for the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech and has been in that role since 2015. Prior to that, he worked for five years as a career counselor and had a brief three year stint as an urban planner for a civil engineering firm. He holds an MA in Counseling from the University of Delaware and BAs in Geography and Urban Planning, both from Virginia Tech. He is passionate about social justice work, especially as it relates to LG BTQ women and people of color, as well as increasing college access for first generation and low income students.
He is also a self identified map nerd who loves to travel. He has been on two cross country road trips and visited 47 US States and 10 foreign countries. He is passionate about people and hookah and often finds that the two go hand in hand. And I'm just going to add that he is one of my best friends, a fellow map nerd, as he alluded to and a road trip extrordinaire grad school partner in crime and former backdoor neighbor And we've shared many a hookah together and occasionally some beer and I am excited to welcome the infamous Mr. John Gray Williams. How are you doing today, sir?
John Gray: [00:02:29] I'm doing very well. Thank you for having me. And I find it very appropriate that you have a map on your wall behind you. Self identify as map nerds.
Bagel: [00:02:39] That's right. Yes. And I can't tell I can't I can't remember what that is behind you. I can kind of see it. Is that a map?
John Gray: [00:02:47] Yeah, it's a map. It's a map of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Bagel: [00:02:51] There you go.
John Gray: [00:02:51] The first foreign country I ever visited.
Bagel: [00:02:54] I recall, I think it's very appropriate that we both have maps on the walls and call ourselves map nerds. What, a way to kick things off.
John Gray: [00:03:04] That unfortunately, none of your podcast listeners can see.
Bagel: [00:03:08] That's right. That's right. We'll just have to bring you back. They are, they are here in fact, cause we're both testifying, but, that just means we'll have to bring you back on for maybe a live video sometimes. So people ,can see the accompanying art in the background. So I want to say one more thing, which is, you know, I've obviously been bringing a lot of people I already know to the table to do these interviews.
And I'm lucky to have many friends and people that are willing to kind of do this with me. But none have acquired as much unsolicited adoration as you, sir, you have quite a reputation among pretty much anyone I've introduced you to. So your reputation proceeds you.
John Gray: [00:03:51] Thank you. I like to think that's my authenticity that people see. And we're going to talk about that later.
Bagel: [00:03:58] Oh, yeah. So to let our guests get to know you a little bit, do you want to share, I know in your bio, you kind of explained a little bit about your job and things like that, but, is there anything else that people maybe should know about you to get to know you a little bit better? Maybe something meaningful that you're doing or working on right now? And then I've got a little icebreaker question for you after that.
John Gray: [00:04:18] Yeah. Well, from my bio, one thing that may surprise a lot of people is my career trajectory. You know, how does one go from an urban planner to counseling and then admissions recruiting work. And it's because I had an epiphany when I was in my job as an urban planner for that civil engineering firm that I'm way too much of a people person. And that I did not respect my extroversion in my prior career choice. Which I think helped inform my work as a career counselor, because I think there's a lot of things that people don't appreciate or don't incorporate into their career choices. And so I'm happy that I figured it out pretty early on and didn't follow a lifelong career path and an area that wasn't satisfying to me. So I've always, you know, my mom always said I never met a stranger when I was growing up , very extroverted. And so then I find myself landed in a job where I'm sitting in an office by myself all day, writing masterplan reports. And I did get to create some maps. It was fun, but not have enough social stimulation for me.
Bagel: [00:05:31] Yeah. I was just going to say like the extroversion, for sure. As I've gotten to know you over the years, but I think the personability, is that the word?
John Gray: [00:05:38] Yeah.
Bagel: [00:05:38] I think that's the word I'm looking for? Yeah. I like you're easy to get along with and people enjoy having conversations with you. And, I think that goes a long way to helping you feel like what you're spending your waking hours doing every day. It's like a strength that you have and something that gives you energy as well.
John Gray: [00:05:55] Yeah. And not that this is supposed to be a podcast episode on personality type, but being that you and I both have a lot of experience with understanding personality type. You know, as an extrovert, I derive my energy from outside from working with other people. And I do think I have some abilities, natural gifts to connect, find common ground, put people at ease, that sort of thing. And those skills were not being utilized at all Y'all typing reports all day. So, it really, yeah, I think it's, it all comes together. To make me a great fit as an admissions recruiter.
Bagel: [00:06:42] Yeah.
John Gray: [00:06:43] Personally, not to toot my own horn.
Bagel: [00:06:46] That's okay. You can do that. So you feel like this career is much more suited for you and kind of your personality and your skills and things like that.
John Gray: [00:06:56] Yeah. I mean, I get to travel a lot. I get to talk to people about their plans and aspirations and their dreams. I get to sell an institution that I love, that I'm an alumnus of. I get to travel a lot for work and you know, there's some strategic elements to it. there's some real planning and thoughtfulness that goes into recruitment strategy.
But if that was all my job was, I would not. Be in this job, it's the social interactions. It's the getting to meet people, young people, their parents working with fellow recruitment colleagues, working with teachers. I get to work with people at all different stages of life and different professions. Well, not all professions, but, you know, it's just, it makes every day different.
And, and that's something that I love.
Bagel: [00:07:46] Yeah, that's awesome. You know, it would be pretty unrealistic to feel like you can figure out your end career at the age of, you know, 23 years old. But the fact that you've been making concerted efforts to pursue something that gives you more meaning and leaves you feeling more fulfilled, and you're able to identify things that you actually care about in a job. That's cool. I think it shows that you, that you're driven to having a more fulfilled career, which probably translates into a more fulfilling life. And I have a feeling we're going to talk a little bit more about those types of things and what you value and things like that. anything else that you're working on now or something meaningful that you're doing that you want to share?
John Gray: [00:08:30] Well, in general, one of my big passions is social justice work, LGBT community. So people of color, women. So one of my passions, so my task is to increase enrollment for my college. Right. But. I also have some personal goals that are also aligned with my institution's goals of increasing diversity in college access. So it's really helpful that it's a passion of mine and also something that I'm pretty good at. And I understand on our deep systemic level, some of those college access issues and issues of oppression that can prevent people from underrepresented groups from achieving higher education. It's really awesome that I, in some ways I'm a boots on the ground kind of person.
Making relationships with underrepresented students making it seem like Virginia Tech is attainable for them. So that's sort of an ongoing thing. And one of the things that when I was thinking about when you asked me think about things you're working on. From an adulting perspective, I'm finally starting to look at home ownership.
Bagel: [00:09:44] This is news to me.
John Gray: [00:09:45] That's news to me. Well, as you know, working in education, you know, we really were rolling in the dough here. Super highly paid education professionals. But you know, I've been working towards saving and I'm finally getting to the point where my savings account is looking like possible down payment for a home.
Bagel: [00:10:10] That's awesome.
John Gray: [00:10:11] I actually just resigned my lease for another year for the house I'm renting. So it's not like it's happening tomorrow, but now that I have a down payment, it's going to be a part of the future moving forward.
Bagel: [00:10:26] Yeah, man. I'm so interested what has triggered you to start like legitimately thinking about owning a home? Like, is it just that you've saved enough? Was that, was that it or is there something else that you're like, no, I think it's time.
John Gray: [00:10:40] Well, I mean, there's the old adage of if you're renting, you're just throwing money away. And so, recently calculated, I've lived in this house for seven years and I calculated all the money I've spent on rent in seven years and I'm like, "Oh my God, never getting that money back." Not that mortgages are cheap and you have things like interests. And I mean, obviously, but, I would say probably the bigger element is just having the money saved for a down payment. And you know, I'm working on my student loans too. So for a long time, they were my priority, but you know, I'm trying to balance, you know, I could take that entire down payment and just put it all towards my student loans. Right. But I want to make strides in multiple areas. I want to keep working on my student loans, but I also want to own a house. And I might even have a roommate. Once I buy a house and start building some equity. It's a great town. I love a college town, it's a great town to own a home. And because, well, a global pandemic aside who knows what that's going to do to like the entire economy and the housing market. But for the most part, college towns like Blacksburg are safe bets for real estate. So I think something that has been holding me back from possibly doing it sooner, besides obviously not necessarily having enough for a down payment has been, how long do I want to live in Blacksburg? Do I want to buy a house in a town I'm going to leave in a few years. If my boss ever hears this podcast, don't worry. I'm not looking for another job. But you know, it's something in the back of my mind, you know, I'm in my mid thirties, do I want to live in this town until I retire? And so do I want to own property if I'm not going to be here for the long haul? But because of the market and because there's always going to be college students looking to rent, even if I decide not to sell them, I keep it. I still, I don't think I'd ever need more renting it out.
Bagel: [00:12:40] Yeah. I was just going to say that it sounds like a smart investment in a college town. I, again, at the time, I've been saying this a lot, but at the time of recording this, we're still very much in the thick of the pandemic. And most of us still quarantining to some extent whether it's mandated or not. And so lots of uncertainty right now, but, hopefully, you know, when things are able to stabilize just a little bit. Yeah. It sounds like a wise investment to have property in a college town, especially knowing you. You'll probably want to be somewhat close to downtown.
John Gray: [00:13:15] Oh Yes, no suburban commuting for me.
Bagel: [00:13:17] That's right. That's right. John Gray is the urban planner in you. You've gotta be in the thick of things.
John Gray: [00:13:23] It's nice to be able to walk to work. I don't know if I'm going to be able to afford a house close enough to walk to work. But, my goal has been for, I set this sort of life goal for myself when I was , I guess 19. And I had a 40 minute commute, to a job. And then I got a new job where the commute was less than five minutes and it was really eye opening. And I made a promise to myself that I'm never going to live more than five miles away from where I work ever again. I mean, if I have to be at work at eight, I set my alarm for seven hit snooze a couple of times get up shower, get dressed, and then I'm at work in five minutes. You know, like I don't have to build in commute time.
Bagel: [00:14:07] There's there are going to be lots of people listening to this podcast, getting very angry with you when they hear this. Maybe not right now, but when they are going back to work regularly. Not everyone's so lucky. But that's a value right there. I mean, just the, the idea that you can be close enough where you can easily commute to work. It's like both the logistically, like being able to get there quickly, but also like not having the frustrations of sitting in traffic or having to go on public transit to like, have a, you know, big chunks of your day being eaten up by just commuting where I'm sure you've got lots of other things you want to do.
John Gray: [00:14:45] If you think that's going to make them mad? Wait until they hear me say that sometimes I come home on my lunch break and take a nap.
Bagel: [00:14:51] That is amazing. I also used to do that when I worked at UNCW, if I needed to. And it was great. I also had a couch in my office though, which was probably an unfair advantage. So, well, I'm excited to hear more about your values before we jump into that, I do have a quick ice breaker questions since we are our fellow Matt nerds and Roadtrip enthusiast. And we've, both have that passion for exploring and traveling and all that sort of thing. So my question to you and take it as it is, what is your most memorable road trip experience?
John Gray: [00:15:29] Loaded question. Am I supposed to answer with one of the trips I've been on with you?
Bagel: [00:15:34] Well, that's why I was saying take it for like, at face value. Cause I don't want to skew you. It definitely does not have to be involving me. I will not be offended. On the last episode I said the same thing to Danielle. She brought up a memory from college that involved me. I said that I wasn't fishing for that, but just because we have a shared interest around the topic, I just thought it would be a fun thing for me to ask you about, so tell whatever your heart desires.
John Gray: [00:16:01] Okay, well, it's interesting. One of the things that I thought about, I was looking at a list of values to get ready for this conversation. And one of the things I've realized from looking at that list, things I was taking off that list is like rule following. I hate following rules. So I am not going to follow the rules and I'm going to give two examples.
Bagel: [00:16:21] Great. I love it. Let's go.
John Gray: [00:16:23] So, sort of, it's almost stereotypical, but I mean, I did a five week cross country road trip with after grad school where we visited, I think like 40 States.
Bagel: [00:16:36] Wow.
John Gray: [00:16:36] In five weeks, which five weeks sounds like a long road trip, but when you're trying to see the entire country, it was remarkably not enough time . going from hotel to hotel to hostile to one campground. And you know how camp grounds work for me, but I checked so many States off that bucket list. So many cities off my bucket list. Plus having someone like, who is a foreigner, you know, he's from Spain, who was so curious and interested in learning about obscure parts of America and well known parts of America. It was, it was just a tremendous experience. Visited so many national parks. So from like sort of just a grand Epic trip, that one is at the top of the list. But I'm also going to add on there, our trip to Dallas to go to that football game when we were in grad school. When we drove from Newark Delaware to Dallas, Texas. Frisco to be specific.
Bagel: [00:17:41] Let's be specific here. First go Texas.
John Gray: [00:17:44] Right. In fact, we didn't get to see downtown Dallas like I wanted. Rear ended someone on the interstate that prevented us from getting to downtown Dallas. But I digress, but we drove to Texas and back in four days. And it was absolute madness because it was 24 hour striving time each way. And we drove in shifts, drove all night.
Bagel: [00:18:11] Four of us.
John Gray: [00:18:12] Four of us in a car, in a rental car, that we did not pay for those damages for the rear ending because has some real special abilities. But, you know, just driving through the night, going in January. So going from snow and ice on the ground in Delaware to like shorts and t-shirt weather in Texas. And then back in four days, I mean, how many States do we have? Like at least seven or eight States?
Bagel: [00:18:44] Do you remember?
John Gray: [00:18:47] I've never been able to do it.
Like you can do it. Can you do it?
Bagel: [00:18:50] So the thing about when John Gray and I have conversations is we both remember different details like interchangeably. So I, for whatever reason, just thought it was fun to, it's not even an acronym. But I don't know what the proper term for this is, but I wanted to capture all of the States that we touched on that trip. And so I created a word and it was, see if I can get it right. So we went to Texarkana, Missa, Bama, Cesia West Virgin, Mary, where. I don't know how many that is. I think that's like 10 or 11 States that we hit on.
That's crazy, a crazy memory. That trip was, I mean, Epic and I just remember. You know, I think this is where you and I really get along and have so much in common is I just remember it was our first year in grad school. I had gone to Delaware for undergrad. John Gray had gone to Virginia Tech for undergrad. So this was his first year kind of up North in Delaware going to school. And I had a couple of friends from undergrad and I just threw this out there to people like we were going to the football championship that year. And I was just like, I want to go to that game, but you know, typical frugal Bagel over here, it was like, I don't want to fly. Like I want to take a road trip, but haven't experienced. And I just remember, I don't even remember where we were. I think we were in Perkins student center or something on campus. And I was just like, dude, we need to do this. And you were like, yes, like not like no hesitation whatsoever. Like, I don't care that much about football, but I'm doing this road trip with you. I was like, all right, I got one. We got the two other guys to join to kind of make it economically feasible. And, it just, it ended up working out. It was a totally memorable experience, but yeah, it's too bad we never actually got to Dallas.
John Gray: [00:20:35] And we had a meal in each of the three big cities of Tennessee. We had breakfast in Knoxville, lunch in Nashville, and dinner in Memphis.
Bagel: [00:20:46] That's right. And what I was also going to say, and this may, I don't know, this may lead a little bit into your values somehow or your strengths. But I specifically remember, and you often do this when we're on road trips, that you are absolutely not allowing us to go back the same way we came. There was no chance in hell of it. John Gray was going to be going back on through those same cities thing, because we already saw them. So what did we do? We went back through Mississippi and Alabama and then - and Georgia. And then eventually back up with 81 to go back home to Delaware. So that's just something that stands out to me about you and is a pretty consistent pattern of you wanting to maximize your experience. And so why would we repeat the same thing we already did? No, let's get as much in as we can and take it all in.
John Gray: [00:21:38] And it's my appreciation for novelty. Like that newness and new things. And, you know, I mean, everybody won, we got to go to Tuscaloosa, you know?
Bagel: [00:21:52] Did see some college towns and their football stadiums.
John Gray: [00:21:56] Win, win, win, and of course, of course this was in Memphis. But we also got to see eat paper because he ordered tamales and didn't know that they were wrapped in paper. So he ate the tamale with the paper still on it.
Bagel: [00:22:09] Rookie mistake. What a guy, man. I'm sure he still laughs at that story though.
John Gray: [00:22:15] Yeah, he brings it up. That's a good, I'm glad he can laugh at the situation. Cause we certainly did.
Bagel: [00:22:22] So now that I've totally overtaken the conversation with our road trip memories. So let's shift into values and we've already kind of hit on a couple of things that obviously matter to you, but in your own perspective, what are some of the things that you hold high in terms of your own values, things that matter to you in your life?
John Gray: [00:22:44] So I did a lot of soul searching and reflecting. And some things that I think are really important to me are, humor. I mean, we've laughed a lot on this podcast and probably will continue to. Kindness, genuine kindness, not like sappy. I've never been like a, you know, hallmark greeting card type of, but just general empathy. But I also really value intelligence and width, which I think kind of goes along with the humor piece. I really value education. And learning and curiosity, and it's really important for me to always be curious. And I value that in other people. I think curiosity leads to intelligence and leads to learning because that spark to want to know more. I mean, I have so many documentaries on my watch list on Netflix that I'm never going to get through them all. I love travel. I often, as we've talked about, authenticity is really important to me. some people have accused me of not having a filter. I think I have a little bit of a filter, I think, I'm trying to find a way to make it not sound trite, but I feel like it's pretty easy to get to know the real me. I see, and I appreciate that in other people. I like converse... for an extrovert, I actually hate small talk . Which is why, even though I'm an extrovert, I don't really like necessarily, networking events. Unless I can find something solid, to talk to someone about, I hate talking about the weather. And empathy, which kind of goes along with the kindness piece. You know, trying to understand, make people feel comfortable, understand where they're coming from. Be a good listening ear, but I also need a good sounding board. That's the extrovert coming out. So those are some of the things that are important to me. Uh, So, do you want to know some of the things that I don't value?
Bagel: [00:25:01] Yes. Yeah. Tell, tell us a little bit about things that don't matter so much, but then I'm going to come back to the things that do. Cause I want to dig in a little deeper.
John Gray: [00:25:11] Okay. So money like financial wealth and success. Not important to me. I just want to be comfortable. I mean, I'm in my mid thirties. And I'm just now talking about buying a house, you know. And I look at some people who have houses and families and, or who chose more lucrative career paths, but you know, at the end of the day money can't buy happiness. Oh, that's so trite. But yeah. Anyway, popularity contests not super important to me. timeliness and time management. I'm super laid back and flexible when it come s to that . Competitiveness, I have never. I mean, we all, I think there are certain instances where I can certainly see I've been competitive. Like, you know, I'm a little bit bragging right now because our college, the College of Natural Resources has the highest percentage of incoming students, of the entire University. So it's like, yeah, we're winning, but that doesn't drive any of the work that I do. Discipline, order. I like chaos. So people who are really strict and regimented and why not? People, sorry, these are my values, but it's good to have friends, so, okay. I didn't think I was talking about this, but one interesting thing that I've found is that I feel like in my friend group, I'm kind of in the middle. I have some folks who are much more orderly and planned than I am. And if I'm doing an activity with one of those people I will let go of the reins and kind of like the sigh of relief. Like, Oh, good. I don't have to plan this or think about this. I'm just like, I'm along for the ride. And then I have friends for whom I am that person. And it's like, if I don't do this, no one's going to do it. And this won't happen . For me it's kind of like a tug of war. Cause sometimes it's like, I don't want to be in this role, but if I don't do this it's not going to get done. Like booking hotels for a road trip. And you know, certain things that just like have to get done. Tasks have to get done.
Bagel: [00:27:20] I think that's really interesting. I definitely see that in you for sure. And I've seen instances of that. It's funny. Cause I'm, I think in terms of the dynamic you just described, I'm probably the, the extreme on the plan full side and like wanting the order and wanting everything to line up perfectly. But it's funny how people, I think. It makes sense what you said, and I think I can see how you're the middle ground person and how you're able to kind of lean to both sides if you need to. And so I think that shows your versatility, which is a cool kind of trait that you have. I think there's also this element that it's a dynamic. Like I think you see when your friends need to rely on you for that, and you're able to adapt because you care about still doing that thing with that person. Like, I think. You know, we can, let's just, let's talk about the here and now. Like you have enabled me or allowed me to be more flexible and be more spontaneous in doing things because I tend to be so rigid. And I think before, when we first met, there was probably much more of a disparity. Of like, dude, we gotta like plan everything. And you're like, let's just hang out, man. We'll get there when we get there. And it drove me nuts and it probably drove you nuts. And eventually we realized like, okay, like, It doesn't have to be so extreme. I don't know. Maybe you didn't feel this way. I don't know if I felt that that much of an extreme, but I think what I'm trying to say is like over time, I thought I've sort of adapted to like, okay, like not everything has to be so rigid. Like I can have a great time with John Gray in particular. If I know that, like, things won't have to be so structured. If I allow myself to be a little bit more carefree, I know that we'll have a great time together. Eventually there needs to be a boundary and you've seen when that happens. I'm pretty good about calling out. Like, dude, I need to go to bed, but you know what I mean? So I think there's like a trade off.
John Gray: [00:29:14] And I will agree from the other side of that coin. I have seen the benefit, and the fruitful rewards of being more diligent with planning. And of course the repercussions, when you don't like not booking a hotel when you're on a road trip and you show up and it's like, Oh my God, there's no hotel rooms available anywhere in this town. Like we don't have anywhere to sleep tonight. So I mean, that's happened to and I more than once on our trip and it was like, Crap. Like we can't stay here. We have to drive on the road for another hour to get to the next town to get to a hotel. Even though it's two o'clock in the morning and we're exhausted, you know, so mean I have seen the value in the other side and being more intentional about planning.
Bagel: [00:30:07] Yeah, for sure. So I liked that you did your homework by the way, and you came prepared to talk about these important values and, and ones that maybe don't matter as much to you. For the ones that do. So I wrote down, I think, most of what you said, I think that's really interesting. Humor, kindness and empathy, kind of this series of curiosity, intelligence and learning, travel, authenticity, and listening and having a sounding board. All things that I would definitely associate with you and the way that you represent yourself, as well as like what you look for in other people. Out of any of those, do you feel like any of them hold more weight than others? Like, are there, is there like a priority order to this? Do you feel like some of these can be, you've got some wiggle room on and others who are maybe like, no, I like that really has to be there for me all the time.
John Gray: [00:31:00] This is, sorry, this is tough because I'm thinking about it in terms of what I want out of other people and versus what I want out of myself. And I guess those tend to align. But I think the things about myself that I, I guess my traits. I'm also having a little trouble, sorry. I'm just sort of thinking out loud here, extrovert alert, traits versus values, you know, traits that you exhibit versus things that you value and care about. They're not exactly the same. They go hand in hand though. But for me, I think I mentioned curiosity. It's so important to me. It cause you know, sometimes I struggle with depression and for me curiousness about the world really can kind of help pull me out of that. Because I'll find something new and interesting, a rabbit hole to run down something, to chase, some new ideas, some topic to learn about, some passion, to get involved with. So I think, yeah, I think curiosity can lead to so many other fruitful things. You know what I mean? You could say curiosity is what led me to graduate school. And if I didn't go there, I wouldn't have the career I have now. I wouldn't know you. Right. So I think curiosity, might be at the top that list. It informs a lot of other things like education and learning and travel. Another one that's really important to me would be the kindness and empathy. Definitely empathy. I struggle sometimes with the word kindness, because. I don't think I'm necessarily always the nicest person and I don't like fake nice. And I'm thinking about friends that I have that are sarcastic and biting and rough around the edges, who I absolutely love and adore and appreciate their ability to check me and keep me in my place. You know, and, I'm thinking of these certain friends and I'm like, I probably would not describe them as kind people, but, but I would describe them as empathetic.
Bagel: [00:33:16] Yeah.
John Gray: [00:33:17] And I think there's a difference.
Bagel: [00:33:20] What traits do you value in a friend? How do you know they matter to you? Do you seek them out intentionally or are you drawn to them more instinctively or innately? What qualities in others repel you?
Yeah. That's really interesting. I think that does speak to your value, right? It's not just about being kind to one another. And maybe that's important sometimes, but more important. It sounds like to you is like being able to put yourself in that person's shoes and kind of see the world from their perspective. And that matters more than going out of your way to like, find the nice thing to say, maybe, right? Or it's just like that they get you, they see where you're at and they get it.
John Gray: [00:34:01] Exactly. And man, I really do value intelligence. And there's a term that I was introduced to recently called sapiosexual. Have you ever heard
So it basically is related to it's like sexual orientation. So sapiosexual, as in "sapien", as in "sentience", is that you're attracted to intelligence. And I mean, it's very true. Not necessarily in terms of like a hookup or a one night stand, but in terms of someone I could never date someone who I felt like was not intelligent. It's not the same kind of intelligence or the same way. I'll just say this much, both of the serious relationships I've had in my life, both people, you know. Both, and they both know this and they hate me when I bring this up. So hopefully you won't listen to this. They were both valedictorians
Bagel: [00:35:03] Oh, my, I did not know that. I don't think I knew that.
John Gray: [00:35:07] I know, and you wouldn't necessarily even know it by talking to them, but
Bagel: [00:35:13] Cause they're not pompous. Right. I mean, they're not like flaunting it in your face, but they're, I mean, yeah, both very smart people from the interactions I've had.
John Gray: [00:35:21] So does that kinda answer the question?
Bagel: [00:35:26] Yeah, it does. I mean, and it's more just, it's my curiosity kind of leaning into that and just, I'm always just interested to know. You know, what things do we hold most true. And, and maybe the reason I asked that is because the last thing I'm interested to know around the values is: Do you have an experience or a time you can think of when one of those values was compromised? And how did that impact you? Whether it was your choice or not? Like, do you, does anything come to mind of a time when, like that didn't happen for you and did that strengthen or weaken the, that value for you?
John Gray: [00:36:05] Yeah. I hate that this is, well I don't hate it. It's it was such a moment in my life, a butterfly moment or whatever. Yeah, it was no, I guess it wasn't a butterfly moment. Those are supposed to be insignificant, but what's right. what's the word I want? It was such a transformational light bulb moment for me, but it was a negative experience. And again, this is so awkward if he listens to this. My former best friend, my best friend coming out of high school. And for my few years that I was in community college. Was super intelligent, super witty. I'm a very curious person. Very charismatic. Like you think I'm charismatic and you know, you introduced me to a lot of people and they all like me. I mean, this guy is like next level. But, he was also pretty mean spirited person and he cut me down a lot. He would make fun of me. And not the kind of ribbing that, again, that empathy piece of like, is it coming from a good place? If someone calling me out on something that really needs to be called out on, in a funny way? You know, I think of like, like they're, you know, they're my, they're my mean friends.
Bagel: [00:37:28] And I'm sure they won't be offended even hearing that. Right. It's like they know who they are.
John Gray: [00:37:34] Who I just absolutely love and adore and they're in it, but in some ways they're so selfless. Like every year for new year's cooks a meal for all of her friends, it's like this huge undertaking that she just cooks this huge, wonderful meal for us. Cause it's like, it's important to her to like feed her friends. And has guided me through so many, like difficult traumatic moments. Has just been like the sounding board for me for so many things. but I appreciate that they keep me in check, you know. So anyway, going back to this moment, it wasn't that kind of ribbing. It was just kind of mean spirited, demeaning, belittling. Always making a joke at my expense with our friend group, like totally unsolicited unwarranted, you know. Just like somebody would say something and it would trigger something in him and then he'd be like, "Oh yeah, like, well, you know John Gray." Like I might not even be part of the conversation, I'd just be in the room. And I finally confronted him about it. Trying to have, granted this was when I was 20 years old , but I think I had taken a psychology class. And I decided to write down all my thoughts and feelings and then meet with him. So we went out to dinner and then I pulled out this two page note of all my grievances, of all the ways in which I felt like he was disrespecting me. And by the way, I use the word respect. I am not necessarily someone who really, in some ways you just, you hear a lot of people talk about like, you better respect me. It's not that sort of machismo type of respect. It's just like basic human decency. Do you love me as a friend? Do you care about me? You don't mistreat me. And so I had this list of grievances and all these examples of ways in which I felt like he had made me feel less than. And his reaction was to laugh at me. And tell me that, like, I was pathetic for bottling all this up and why didn't I just stand up for myself and like speak out sooner. And like, you know, now I show up, you know, after years of friendship with this list and needless to say our friendship, like never recovered. And then I went away to college. I think that that's what I mean when I say like kindness and empathy. I don't mind a little bit of ribbing, especially if it's like, if I feel like it's due. But just blatant mean spiritedness. Yeah. That, so that, for me, when I came away to college, I kind of put up some red flags when I saw that behavior and other people. And I would like to stay away from them.
Bagel: [00:40:29] Yeah. That's a really poignant example. I think of that and why that matters to you so much. And you know, I think it's, people show respect and empathy and care in different ways. But it was, that sounds pretty obvious like he didn't respect you. Like, if, even if it's a little funny yet what, you know, you're in high school. Right. So it's like, it's funny at that age, like someone wants to share your feelings, especially a guy, right. There's kind of the stereotype of, we tend to try to bottle things up a bit more. And maybe don't share your feelings about things, but if he wasn't willing to actually hear you out, is he really a true friend at that point?
Even, even if he didn't want to hear what you had to say, which sounds like maybe that was a lot more about him than it was. How about you? I'm sensing, I don't know the guy, but good for you for standing up for yourself and saying, you know what? I respect myself. And if this guy's not going to respect me, I don't need to be in this friendship anymore. I'll say one quick thing just for our listeners, Michael Moore kind of talked a little bit about this approach with people in your life. In the first episode about how you kind of want to look at your relationships thinking about whether you want to eliminate moderate or cultivate those relationships in your life. And it sounds to me like that was a clear eliminate situation. Like unless that guy could all of a sudden turn around his whole demeanor with you and all. It's like, you know what, maybe it's better off I'm going away to school and this relationship can fizzle and it wouldn't hurt me at all.
How do you go about eliminating the toxic relationships in your life? Have you kept some around? Why? How is it affecting your life? How has maintaining that relationship related to your values?
So I think this, it was a great transition, a great segue into our topic that I wanted you, that I invited you to come and speak about today. Which is essentially making and maintaining friendships with age. And I thought about you immediately with this topic, just because I know you're and my friendship started after college. Which is where I think college is a lot of times that that breeding ground for really true friendships, where a lot of people kind of make their, their lifelong friends, if not before. Yeah. You and I met each other a little bit later in life, a couple of years after that, when we were both in grad school. And we obviously have cultivated a pretty strong friendship. And I know that we've both kind of made some new friends beyond that as well. But I also know that you and I have had conversations about how those relationships have been harder to come by. And sometimes what we are looking for in terms of friendships have, our criteria has changed a bit. And so I thought it would be really fun to just talk a little bit about friendships. And maybe as the first prompt here is like, what do you feel like you look for in a friendship? And how has that shifted throughout your life?
John Gray: [00:43:42] Well, I mean, I guess you can't totally separate the earlier conversation from this part.
Bagel: [00:43:48] Yeah.
John Gray: [00:43:49] I mean for me, what I'm looking for is authenticity. And I feel like I'm really good at reading people just to, again, but I don't like fakeness. I don't like people who are mean you know what I mean? Yeah. It's fun to like, watch RuPaul's drag race and you know, like watch those Queens cut each other up and it's like, ha, but it's like, okay but not of my personal life. Okay. And I think I like deep thinkers. I like people who are introspective, who understand and know themselves, or at least are trying to figure that out. And who are willing to share that with me and who let me share that with them. I mean, when I think about all my close friends, it's the people that I can have deep conversations with. About shit that matters. And then where's the best ones are the ones that you can have, the conversations that don't matter, the ridiculousness and the get drunk and, go... Well, I need to separate - not get drunk and go on a road trip. Don't drink and drive kids .
Bagel: [00:44:56] Public service announcement.
John Gray: [00:44:59] You know, the kids that you can like the kids, the friends you can cut loose with. Who get you in some ways that other people don't and you know, the friends that you can spend days on end in a car with, the friends who have been through. I mean, I think a lot of friendships get forged in the fire, so to speak, through tragedy or traumatic life experiences. So people who are with you through those difficult times. I mean, that's not the, that's not a sole criteria for friendship, but it can sort of be a bellwether or a make or break point, depending on the experience. So I would say in my early life, all my friends in like elementary school and middle school, even high school were friends of friends. They were friends who I seem to get along with in school. And we had fun things to do outside of school. I'm really trying to think of like, I almost feel like I maybe was using them . But like, I'm not friends with anyone from bef - I'm not friends with anyone my age from before college.
Bagel: [00:46:14] And I think that that's actually pretty typical. Not to cut you off there, but I hear that a lot. I hear that a lot that maybe relationships from or friendships from high school even started to fizzle. Usually by the time you kind of got through college because you went off in separate ways, not for everybody, but it seems more common than not that the college years were kind of the cutoff for maintaining
John Gray: [00:46:38] So, how do you do it bagel? The magic recipe for keeping high school friends in your life?
Bagel: [00:46:44] You know, they're a bunch of crazy assholes is the secret formula to that. I don't know what else to say. No. I mean, and not to make this too much about me, cause obviously you're my guests and I want to hear your experience. But I can, my answer to that what I believe is two things. And so what John Gray is alluding to is I do have a pretty tight crew from before college, like kind of high school friends. We didn't all go to the same high school, but we all hung out in high school and there are eight of us. And, at the time we, you know, we're all a bunch of stubborn Jersey kids, right? Like we all are kind of somewhat proud and felt like we were unique to some degree and a lot of us became friends through like listening to rock music. It's kind of like was the binding agent for a lot of my friends growing up. Not everyone in the group, but I think there was this stubbornness of like we have a ridiculous crew. We're fun. We're wild. We're weird. People like us. Like there was this like pride around the group. And a few, we were all slightly different ages. A couple people were like a year or two ahead of me. And we started to go off to college and there was the sense of like, let's not lose this. Like this was fun. Let's not be like everybody else. It was almost like, again, the pride speaking. Being like, yeah, we're not going to be like everyone else says they're going to stay friends and then they just go to college and then they forget everyone they grew up with. Like we're going to still be friends. Right. And I think that that held it together for a little while. And then what really, really tied us together, I think for life, is when we lost our best friend. Kind of like you just described. A tough life circumstance. My, pretty much my best friend, I mean, I have a number, but really why my true best friend growing up passed away senior year of college. And he wasn't just my best friend. I mean, he was kind of just like me, kind of the center, the glue of the group. And when he passed, I mean, we all kind of flocked back together even tighter than we were before. And that forged that friendship in a meaningful way for life. I think we all sensed that we were still friends, but that is what really tied us all together. Even more tightly. And we just like declared together that like, this is us man. Like if we're going to, we're going to do this, we're going to do this. Like we all cared about Rob. We cared about each other. Here we go. So that's my little tangent to answer your question about how that happens.
John Gray: [00:49:21] It makes me think of something. So I was, I have competing thoughts in my mind. There's a part of me that says I was a late bloomer. And I think I was in a lot of ways. And in terms of figuring out what the hell I wanted to do. What my true passions were, I think I've always been a Jack of all trades. I have described myself before as being a chameleon. And that I fit into a lot of different social groups very easily, because I can pick up on the things. And because of the keyhole curiosity, wow this is all interrelated. I have so many varied interests and abilities to connect with people that I can kind of like meet people where they're at. You know, the kinds of conversations in the way I interact with you are so different from like my one on one time with. Just like pick an extreme, she's like an extreme friend, right? Like it just in terms of her personality. And I think that actually helped me fit in. I think I was very well liked in high school, but I was certainly wasn't a popular kid. But I didn't have like a tight crew. It's just like it is now. Except my relationships as an adult are so much more meaningful and deep. But I had like there was, there was always kids in every class that I would hang out with. But we never really hung out outside of school. There was nothing passionate. I didn't play sports. I didn't play music. There was nothing that like, I wasn't on any teams. Well I was on the debate team.
Bagel: [00:50:55] Oh, yeah, there you go.
John Gray: [00:50:56] I wonder why that then developed into any friendships . So anyway, I guess in a sense that figuring out what was important to me. I mean, what high schoolers are really introspective. But I think I didn't have a lot of like built in activities or interests that bonded me with other people. And so I guess I say I'm a late bloomer in the sense that I was like late to figure out what was important to me. But on the other side of the spectrum, and this is something that we're going to, this might be a good transition is the next phase of my life. When I was younger, I always, always, always got along really well with people older than me. Like adults, I don't mean like older kids. Because I think I've, I mean, I was kind of a goody two shoes. Not like super hardcore tattletale, rat people out goody two shoessues but, and I wasn't afraid of getting in trouble. I just didn't like do shit to get me self in trouble. I mean, the worst thing that I ever did was I broke into a school bus when I was a kid to like pretend to drive it around .
Bagel: [00:52:06] I don't think I heard that story.
John Gray: [00:52:09] No, this was like elementary school. And then in middle school I remember there was a house under construction in my neighborhood and me and my friends like broke into it. To like explore and stuff and it was like you know Oh are we going to get in trouble. And then of course while we were in there they wanted to smoke cigarettes . And I didn't cause I thought cigarette smoking was gross cause my mom smoked. So it wasn't like Ooh I'm going to be edgy and be a rebel and smoke. It was more just like no, like I don't want to do that It wasn't cause I didn't want to get in trouble. It was like I didn't have a desire I guess to do things that would have gotten me in trouble. I don't know. Of course there's a lot to unpack with the sexual orientation thing too. Like hiding that. Huge part of my life and that very important part of my identity of like pretending to like girls. You know but like I didn't really ever liked them enough to like fake a relationship. Like I mean, and like I had a girlfriend in like third grade. That's like too young, but I mean, in high school, my friends told me there was this one girl who had a huge crush on me. And she like brought me gifts and shit at school. And like always wanted to hang out. But like, I wasn't sexually attracted to her. But I wasn't out, but I wasn't willing to fake that I was in to her. So it was just like, I think everyone thought I was asexual
Bagel: [00:53:32] Yeah.
John Gray: [00:53:33] A few who figured it out early, but it was like . I didn't think we would, I actually really didn't think we would end up talking about my sexuality, but I guess it's kind of an important part of all this. In the sense that I was closeted, but never so closeted that I was willing to fake like a relationship in order to maintain my closetedness. It's like, I mean, I knew people who dated girls and now they're gayer than a $3 bill. But it was like that cognitive dissonance, I was like, okay, no one can know that I'm gay, but I'm also like, not going to invest all this mental gymnastics and like pretending to like go on a date and like having a relationship with this girl.
Bagel: [00:54:17] Yeah. I was wondering if it was an intentional thought or if it was more like I don't want to deal with it. Or maybe both.
John Gray: [00:54:25] Yeah. I would say both. Cause like, what was I going to get out of it? Like, no one was accusing me of being gay. It wasn't like I need, so do you know what that's called? It's called having a beard,
Bagel: [00:54:37] Ah right. Yeah.
John Gray: [00:54:38] No one was accusing me of being gay. No one really thought I was gay. So it wasn't like I needed this added layer of like heteronormativity. So it was more just like. Why would I, why would, I don't want this burden? I don't want to deal with pretending to like you.
Bagel: [00:54:55] Yeah. And that, I mean, I think that that in itself shows a little bit of like, self-awareness. Like knowing that, I mean, it sounds like you knew at that time kind of your orientation. It wasn't, it wasn't something that you were willing to like compromise for yourself. Now, whether or not you were sharing publicly, obviously that, that came later. But the fact that you were like, yeah, I'm not gonna like fake this for me right now. That's not going to do any good, serves no purpose.
John Gray: [00:55:25] Exactly. Yes. I have never thought about it in this way before. I've told that story before about the girl who had a crush on me that I wouldn't date. But I've never really reflected on it in this way. So that's fun. That's fun. So back to relationships with adults. I think so I, on
Bagel: [00:55:45] Yeah, we went down a tangent didn't we.
John Gray: [00:55:47] Yeah, but I'm bringing it back. So on one hand, I said I'm a late bloomer in the sense that I was like late to figure out what was important to me. And that I think inhibited having some friendships plus being kind of like a jolly good, like the Jack of all trades. You know, like I was like almost the class clown, but not the class clown that would like really get in trouble. You know, a lot of people liked me, but I didn't really get invited to like parties and things like that. Cause I wasn't like I wasn't the cool edgy kid. I was just like the friendly person. That I didn't, I got picked on for being overweight a little bit, but I didn't really get like bullied or picked on because like people liked me. Like I was easy to talk to. I was friendly. So I just was like, it's interesting to reflect back. I was one of those people in high school that was like, just…And I think a lot of people are like this. I feel like I just like rode the wave. Like I didn't make waves. I didn't have a lot of close friends, but I didn't have enemies . You know, people liked me, but not enough to like really like I didn't have a whole lot of friends outside of school.
Bagel: [00:57:01] It's kind of under the, it sounds like you flew under the radar a bit. You were, you were there, you were likable. But you didn't cause a stir. You didn't really, you didn't like following the rules, but you weren't the one that was gonna like overtly break them in a public setting so that you would put the light would shine upon you. It it sounds like you were a bit of coasting through that life and to shine the light on the conversation on the topic today that we're talking about. Like, I see that that shifted for you to some degree. I mean, I still don't think you're like a huge troublemaker or anything like that, but you certainly enjoy like hosting people and gathering groups of people you like. Not in a negative way, but I think you like to be the center of attention in the sense that like you like to bring people together. And I think that's something we share of course. But, I'm curious, at what point did you feel like that started to shift for you? Was it in college? Like how did you emerge? Cause I don't think it was a shift, but it sounds like you emerged into being the John Gray that, that we now know this gregarious, likable, affable, like person that, That others really enjoy being around in there. Like kind of, I don't know flocking to is what's coming to me right now.
John Gray: [00:58:16] Well, they're not flocking in recent years because I feel like my social life is taken a nose dive. It's hard to be in your mid thirties in a college town. I tell you that much. Single and gay. But anyway, I think it's because I started to develop more meaningful adult friendships with people. Right. I was able to get to know people on a different level. People's priorities were different cause we're in college. So we're away from parents. Everyone, you know, not to sound elitist, but you know, I went to a good school. It's hard to get into. So I was with other high achieving, goal oriented people, but still who wanted to have fun. The, all the baggage that comes along with high school personality, quirks, cliques, you know, maintaining your reputation and your prestige. Like everyone gets a chance to wipe the slate clean in college. And you have such a diversity of people, right? Your high school is the same people. I mean, I realize some people move around or go to different high schools, but for the most part, everyone on my high school was all the same people at my middle school. Right. but more, and the same community, the same. But you come to a college town like this. Or any college, it doesn't have to be a college town. Or any large university is going to pull people from all different walks of life, all over the place. And it's that opportunity to hit that reset button. And for me, I started to realize, especially after that, heart-to-heart where I had with my ex best friend where I wrote the two-page grievances and all that. I started to realize. There are . You will find your tribe. There are people out there for you. For me. Relationships are going to come more naturally. They're not going to take as much work. Not that they shouldn't take effort to maintain, and we can get into that. We will get into that. I'm assuming, but it shouldn't be a chore. Right. You know, you shouldn't be, you shouldn't have to make concessions. Shouldn't have to compromise your values. And eventually you're going to like find enough good people that fit you and that you fit. And, so something to speaking of, sort of forging more adult, just maturing. People maturing. Letting go of like, caring so much about what people think, all the crap that we deal with in high school.
I think that's why I got along with so many older adults when I was younger. And so when I was making my list of like my closest friends from my high school and my community college days, which kind of were like, you know, 13th and 14th grade. Cause I was still looking at them. They are leaders from my church's youth group. They are former coworkers, my other mothers if you will, from the hospital, these are people that I still keep in touch with. Whenever I'm back in Virginia Beach, I text them. I'm like, "Hey, I'm going to be in Virginia Beach for three days. Can we get lunch? Can we get dinner?" Because I found them so easy to talk to and confide in. And I like. But like they had such valuable, interesting things to say. I mean, I really looked up to them. There's a fine line between mentor and friend, which I'm sure you have some thoughts on that. And when I was really young, these people were mentors to me, but as I grew it developed into friendships.
Bagel: [01:01:45] Yeah, it makes sense. I think, some people, sometimes they start out as mentors and they develop into friends and that that's a nice natural progression. It kind of speaks to the strength of the relationship and the common ground that the two people have. And I think it also speaks to what you were describing before of sort of finding friends that were maybe at a, you said older friends. What, the way I perceive that is like, The ones who maybe are a little bit ahead in terms of their life stage. And I don't know if you still feel like you're finding friends like that, but maybe when you were younger. It sounds like you were almost because you valued intellectual, you know, people and you were very curious and you still are. It sounds like you were almost reaching for those people who had more of the wisdom and the more experience that could kind of enlighten you in that way and like provide a map almost of like, here's the track of how you get to this level of wisdom and experience. And not to say that that everyone was like this monk or something that was like trying to lay out the path for, you know, serenity and you know, all that kind of thing. But I just mean it and tell me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like. You are, you were seeking out people who had that intelligence, that curiosity, and perhaps people that you could look up to in a sense to, to aspire to, I think, more than where you were at.
John Gray: [01:03:18] Yes, absolutely. 100%. And certainly we all have a lot of people like that in our lives. And I have other people like that who I don't consider friends now. I think it's kind of like this perfect blend it. And it gets out, man, I'm looking because I wrote some of these folks names down and I'm thinking about their qualities and their traits. Not only do they embody all the things you just shared in terms of what may have initially attracted me to them, but these are people with high empathy. People who are very kind, but also kind of keep it real people who are very funny, like always making me laugh and I make them laugh. Cause obviously there's like, it's a feedback loop. It's very gratifying to feel like you can make other people laugh. So, you know, when I say like the youth group leaders of my church or some of these old coworkers, I mean, I have six people on this list. I worked with a lot more than six people. I, there were a lot more than six people leading the church youth group and they didn't all become friends. Like there's, it is everything you said. And all those other values that we talked about initially. Also one other thing about, I think, maturing. Having friendships with mature people. And of course, age and maturity are not always hand in hand, those older friends. They, I never had to worry about the judgment or clicky shit that you have to deal with in high school because they like, they don't care what other people think. And they're not going to judge you or make fun of you. They'll tell it like it is, you know? Yeah. I'm thinking of like you know, those kinds of friends, I've got some older friends who are like that, that will keep me in check, But it was always coming from a place of like really valuing me as a person. And I think that's essential. Do you feel like that other person actually cares about you?
Bagel: [01:05:16] Yeah. I mean, that sounds like the foundation for a healthy relationship period. Whether they're a platonic or romantic. You know, whatever someone in your life that you want us to have a relationship with, to invest in. You know, do you feel like they care about you as a person? I think is a great place to start.
Hope you enjoyed the first part of this episode with John Gray on making and maintaining friendships. We covered a lot, but we cover even more in next week's episode, which is part two of the series.
We'll dig deeper into making friends in the college years and beyond. We chat about emotional intelligence, family and gender stereotypes. Even when we know it's time to cut ties with the friends we have. You won't want to miss it. See you next week.
If you like what you heard, please hit subscribe in your podcast app so you get notified about all new episodes of the Live Your Values podcast with me, Bagel. Special, thanks to Emma Peck for logo design, Danielle Gelber for marketing strategy, and Rebecca Kittel and my team at Free Your Time Virtual Assistants for operation support.
Until next time, get out there and LYV.