What makes someone a great friend?
Is it being supportive and accepting you just the way you are?
Or is it someone who has the guts to kick you in the tail and demand that you do better?
I had an abysmal book signing several years ago that gave me a different perspective on what it really means to be a friend.
It was one of those awful, embarrassing no-show events that every author dreads. To make matters worse, it was one of the first public events for my very first book, "Forget Perfect" (irony not lost on me). Despite promoting the heck out of it, only two people showed up. I think they actually just happened to be at the bookstore anyway, but because they felt sorry for me, they bought a book.
It was like throwing a New Year's Eve party and not having anybody come. Only instead of looking at unused plastic noise-makers and still-full bottles of cheap champagne, I was left staring at a room full of empty seats and a giant pile of unsold books.
I sat alone at my little author table for about an hour. But after three people in a row asked me for directions to the bathroom, I packed up my poster and went home.
On the scale of human suffering, worse tragedies have certainly been endured. But for a first-time author with dreams of grandeur, it was humiliating.
On the way home, I called my friend Shannon, hoping for a little sympathy. She and I had been in sales together, so I thought if anyone could relate to feeling rejected, it was a former salesperson.
As I poured out my tale of woe, detailing the pitying looks of the bookstore staff and how embarrassing it was to have all the books shipped back to the publisher, I expected her to coddle me.
Instead, she took a deep breath and barked into the phone like a drill sergeant, "Lisa. Earle. McLeod. You are a former Procter & Gamble sales rep. Are you honestly telling me that there wasn't anybody within 500 yards of that store who could have bought your book?"
She went on, "Did you really spend all those late nights writing this book just so you could sit there like a dork waiting for people to approach you? Or do you care enough about this book to go out there and sell the damn thing?"
Nelly the Nurturer, she's not. But she showed up at my next book signing with three friends in tow and helped me troll an entire mall, giving out postcards until we sold 275 books, selling out the store and prompting the manager to place a big reorder for the front table.
Looking back, it's obvious that Shannon's "suck it up and do it" tactics were a gift of true friendship, and I'm eternally grateful that she didn't coddle me.
We all want to be supported, but friends aren't just the people who feed you brownies. Sometimes they're the people who have the guts to tell you to go on a diet. And they don't always take your side in a tirade against your spouse or boss. Sometimes they love you enough to tell you that you're the one who needs to grow up.
Good friends tell you what you want to hear. But a truly great friend tells you what you need to hear, whether you like it or not.