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  • Writer's pictureT. Kearny Vertner, III

Who's in Your Wolf Pack?

You become who you run with; find the pack that challenges you to grow.

When I was a teenager, I had zero desire to try any drugs. That desire wasn't shared by many of my friends, and a good portion of high school was spent with friends who would regularly smoke weed. I didn't have a hard time with this; while I wasn't interested, I didn't find it particularly dangerous for them. It started as an every-now-and-then kind of thing, but it grew to become a progressively more common and consistent part of their lives. They were all great people, and I fully appreciated that they respected me enough not to smoke around me, but I grew lonely as a result. Any of those nights, I would have happily hung out with them, but they were off smoking... and respecting my choice. 

I would like to note that I was a terrible student in high school. I was awake all night reading or browsing the internet and either sleeping through my classes or missing school completely. I barely graduated with a 1.9 GPA, and my goal of going to college was right out. After graduating high school, I went through various part-time jobs in a directionless way, seeking something better and more meaningful. My friends were in a similar boat, though I imagine smoking helped soothe some of the discontentment.

Around the age of nineteen, I heard some advice that sticks with me today: you are the pack you run with. If they're not challenging and supporting you, you need to find a new pack.

After some heavy soul-searching, I decided to be honest and explain to my friends that it wasn't working out (in the melodramatic ways that only a young adult can). I rebuilt and strengthened old fallow friendships and forged brand-new connections. One of those connections even went on to marry me (and she's still hanging around)! A critical difference was that all of these people had some plans. Some were working through college. Others were in a similar place as I was and exploring community college options. A few were building skills in various trades. 

Within a year, I was turning myself around. I was going to community college and getting the best grades I ever had. I was still working retail jobs, but moving into management roles. I negotiated my first car purchase, got married, started saving for retirement, and even had my first daughter. I had moved into a new tier, but I wanted to move forward. I wanted to travel, finish my college degree, and have more kids. I was also working two jobs and barely making it, just like many of my friends. Again, they were amazing people, but their sights were modest and tied to the city we grew up in. At the age of 24, I realized that I had hit another plateau.

I enlisted in the Air Force. It was a shocking and dramatic change, but it has forced a new level of growth on me through continual change. Each new assignment brings a new wolf pack and new challenges. Since then, I've slowly been realizing each of my goals. I have gotten a ton of opportunities to travel, graduated from college, and had two more daughters. I've also been consistently surrounded by an ever-expanding group of some of the most wonderful folks I've ever met.

This is a very personal tale, but I think it illustrates my point: if you're unhappy and feeling stuck in a rut in life, look around you. Are you surrounded by people in that exact same rut? Are they going to encourage you to grow and develop into the next stage, or are they going to help you be exactly who you currently are? 

Please don't take this to mean that you should always just run screaming away from your current friends! This advice is for folks that feel unhappy or discontented. I'm also not suggesting that - if you decide to make such a transition - that you do it rudely, dramatically, or abruptly. They're still (likely) good people and deserve to be treated with love and dignity. I'm immeasurably grateful for all of the friends I've had throughout my life and the roles they played at each phase of my life. I learned valuable lessons from each of them. Sometimes, I learned what to do, and other times, I learned what not to do. 

How about you? How is your wolf pack? Are they pushing you to move forward, are you all running at the same speed together, or are they holding you back? Did you run with the wrong pack, make a change, and grow as a result of moving on? 


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