Choose Your Friends Carefully… Building Your International Think Tank

Do your friends enable you to live a life of savvy, global do-gooding? Do they inspire you? Do they hold you accountable? Are they worth the investment of your time and energy? Do they expand your vision? We are the average of the friends that we keep in our closest circle so these are questions well worth seriously considering.

At the end of college some friends and I started what we loosely called the “Think Tank”. We had all gone to college in Michigan and for a variety of reasons, about 10 of us ended up in Southern California. We would meet once a month or so and talk over problems that we were dealing with – our points of greatest religious faith and doubt, our plans for the future and our life philosophies. The conversations were something you could literally feed off of. They were absolutely superb. I left them feeling like I could tackle anything. I remember one session lasted from 3 PM to 3 AM – with 7-10 of us sitting in the same living room for the entire conversation. It was spontaneous, high energy and enthusiastic.

Since those early post college days I have moved up to Northern California but at the wedding of one of the think tank members in Newport Beach a few weeks ago, talk of the think tank resumed. Without exception, all of the original members of the think thank are still highly motivated to do oversees service of some kind and to expand their experience of the “other”.

I love this. I can’t say how important it is for me in my life to have friends that encourage the best in me. Friends like these are almost impossible to come across and when you have them they are worth keeping.

Do your natural habits and rhythms lend themselves to maintaining these kinds of relationships? If you are a world traveler, are you allowing time zones and physical distance to come between you and your maintaining these kinds of friendships? I often am guilty of this.

As a Third Culture Kid, I am used to meeting people in some corner of the world, enjoying mutually fun times and then moving on, realizing that international relationships are hard to maintain. While this is true, it does not need to define how we live our lives.

Here’s what I suggest: a regularly held accountability session with multiple close friends. I am experimenting with this in my conversations with five people: my wife, my sister, two college buddies and a designer friend. My conversations are more than just fun (or painful when it comes to admitting that I’ve slacked in some area). They keep me on track. The accountability checks are forcing me to stay on task and to maintain an open mind and a huge appetite for more than the mundane reality strewn around in everyday life.

Another tip – don’t make it too difficulty to keep your accountability commitment with friends. And also, be easy on yourself. Adherence to super strict guidelines for conversation frequency and content tends to start off strong and then crash. Don’t make the mistake of falling into that… it’s immensely demotivating and best avoided

With that said I wish you the best of luck as you build your international network of friends and fellow adventurers. There is little than cannot be accomplished if you have the right kind of support.



Bjorn Karlman

4 thoughts on “Choose Your Friends Carefully… Building Your International Think Tank”

  1. Bjorn,

    I would add one point–or word–to this excellent article: spouse. Who you choose to marry will define the extent to which you are able to physically and financially participate in international do-gooding in the long-term. Is international do-gooding a shared ethos in your relationship, or is it just one of your many quirky little interests?


    1. Ehren, excuse the late reply to your excellent comment. How is Greece treating you? How true on the spouse issue… fairly fundamental, I would say. I actually treated it as a bit of a litmus test back when I was dating. If the girl was not up for travel it was pretty much no deal. I think we both picked well in the spouse arena… you guys have been on the go from the very start, haven’t you? Looking forward to visiting you sometime… Jammie is about as crazy about intl do-gooding as I am so we’ll have to find some worthy cause in Greece ASAP:)

  2. “We are the average of the friends that we keep in our closest circle so these are questions well worth seriously considering.”

    If this is the case, then I must be a very nice person. Either that, or incredibly lucky. I have few close friends, but the ones that I have are gems. I like this idea of a think tank. While I have had conversations about our society’s problems with a few friends, they have never really amounted to much. Perhaps I should give it another shot.

    PS: I know I’m late, but congrats on your marriage.

    1. Thanks for the comment! And congratulations on your circle:) I am incredibly grateful for the close relationships I have and the think tank is really turning into a meaningful experiment… I’d love to hear how things go with your friends. If the expectations and “requirements” of members, are kept fairly modest, something like this can grow…

      Thanks for the kind words on the marriage… going strong!!

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