20 lessons from 20 years of “FRIENDS”

Pop quiz: What’s my favorite TV show? If the title of this blog wasn’t obvious enough, or if you know me even in the slightest you will know it’s Friends.


Friends premiered 20 years ago this very day, and with it brought so many laughs and unforgettable lessons.  I chronicled 20 lessons I took with me from the show that are sure to be life lessons for us all.

1. Time and distance are just temporary barriers to friendship.

The pilot was the episode that kicked it all off.  We were introduced to five friends all living in New York City, talking in a coffee shop about dates and work.  A few seconds later, Rachel crashes through Central Perk in her wedding dress after getting cold feet at her wedding to Barry – now that was a scene to kick off a sitcom! The episode develops and we see that friendships that had to suffer the challenges of time and distance are just as strong as ever.  The friends pick up where they left off and the viewer settles in for a wonderful journey.  Having been a victim of the distance and time challenges myself it is always a joy to pick up with friends both near and far. The moments are so much more appreciated and the friendships, despite the challenges get stronger and stronger.

I recently celebrated the five year anniversary of my high school graduation.  And while, for the most part, all of my friends and I had gone our own ways, we all picked up where we left of.  And now we know that know matter where we go, we have a brotherhood that can’t be broken.

2. The real world sucks – but you’re gonna love it.

I’m wrapping up graduate school and have said so long to the party times of my undergraduate career.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like to have a fun time, rather the crazy times have been put on the back burner for times of really finding and creating myself both professionally and personally.  It sucks to leave the times of college when your friends were just around the corner and you didn’t have a care in the world.  But just as Rachel cut up her credit cards reluctantly to give up the safety of her comfort zone, so do we all have to have a leap of faith that despite the bumpy road, our destination will be worth it all.

3. If you love something or someone do not, under any circumstances, take a break.

You don’t pause halfway through a nice steak dinner and say, “Gee, this steak dinner is pretty good. I think I’ll throw the rest in the fridge and come back to it in a week,” because by the time the week is over the steak dinner is just mere leftovers that you know are going to end up at the bottom of the garbage can.  If you love something savor it.  Be present with it.  Do whatever work necessary to keep it fulfilling.  It can be a relationship, a passion, or even a hobby.  But taking a break from something just means you are cheating yourself out of moments of extraordinary happiness.  Sometimes it can get hard – you may hit a rough patch in a relationship, or seem to lose the magic in what you are doing.  But whatever you do, do not take a break from it.  Instead, power through and give yourself the time to keep the things and people that bring magic to your life an integral part of it.

4. Whether you like it or not be ready to “Pivot!”

Turns in the road are going to come whether you see them or not.  After all, change is inevitable.  Nothing makes this more relevant than the infamous “Pivot!” episode, where Ross tries to get a new couch up the stairs to his new apartment.  With every slight change in their direction, Ross shouts “Pivot” signaling Rachel and Chandler to make a change.  This seems to be the most hysterical metaphors I have made – but there seems to be something to it.  There is more meaning that just moving a couch to a new apartment.

Whether you expect it or not, there will be times in life when you simply have to pivot.  When you have to make adjustments.  It could be a sudden loss of a loved one, a career change or just unfortunate changes in your everyday life.  Whatever the case may be life is not a blueprint that we create for ourselves.  Instead life just kind of just happens and we have to learn to roll with the punches.  By doing so, that is when we truly create a meaningful life for ourselves.  So don’t worry when life doesn’t go your way, it may just be a blessing in disguise.

5. The best moments can be dancing around in a fountain

The opening of Friends is iconic.  It’s simple, but I don’t think anyone can look at an orange couch in front of a fountain and not think of this TV show.  As The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” plays the cast dances around in their black and white outfits looking to have the best time of their life.  It’s a memorable opening and has been a parallel to some of the best times of my life – getting soaked by the sprinklers in the Quad at Canisius.  I’ll never forget the time my group of friends decided to take a last walk around campus before we all parted ways and as the sprinklers kicked on, my friend Chels yells “Yes!!!!” and before you know it, whether we were reluctant or not we were all soaked and running around like fools.  That memory along with the countless other memories – parties, basketball games, and nights spent watching TV – will always be engrained in my memory. It goes to show that the simple, stupid times are often the best.

6.  Try to attain unagi, and I’m not talking about sushi

Rachel and Phoebe hiding behind Ross’s curtains only to jump out once he got home and screamed “DANGER!” was one of my favorite episodes by far!  Ross’s idea of “complete awareness,” which also was a type of sushi, stands as another metaphor for me.  It doesn’t necessarily mean needing to be aware of possible attackers – although it’s good to be able to spot danger.  What I am referring to is simply being aware of the world, what is happening both on a small and large scale, what affects you right now and what may have no direct impact on you.  Being aware of the world to explore your city, your country, your world.  Travel and enjoy the beauty of nature.  Visit places you never would normally and meet people you would never come in contact with otherwise.  When you go outside of the place you find comfort in you learn so much more about yourself and truly get to see how massively complex, and beautiful this world is.  You also learn to leave a piece of you wherever you go and take a piece of those places with you as you grow.

7. Feed ‘Smelly Cat’

Find the beauty in the ugly.  Just as Phoebe sings a (as she puts it) beautiful ballad about a feline who stinks, we all need to find the good in the bad.  Taking it one step further it could be bringing some good to bad situations.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Donate money to a nonprofit.  Donate blood to the American Red Cross.  There are a lot of tragedies that happen in our world everyday, but if we can just find our part in the mess of it all, we can really understand our own potential and the hope that exists in the world around us.

8. You never know who your friends will end up being

Ross and Monica are siblings.  Monica and Rachel are high school friends.  Chandler and Ross are college roommates.  But Phoebe and Joey came into this circle of friends by chance.  The truth is you never know who your friends are going to be.  Sure, you can pick out a person in a crowd and try to be their friend, but friendship is something that happens and develops organically.  You won’t be friends with people you don’t like or don’t like you.  You develop friendships with the people who are similar to you and have some type of common interest.  So don’t count anyone out, because usually fate intervenes and brings you the friends you need in your life.

9. Embrace your inner Regina Phalange or Ken Adams

While I don’t think you should go into any fraud territory, I do think it is always fun to find a different side of yourself.  Whether it be doing something you never thought you would try, or a food you think you’d hate, step out and you may find a whole new part of yourself you never knew existed.  Giving yourself the chance to explore the different and the novel helps you to relate to others better and makes yourself a more well-rounded person.  I’m never ashamed of making myself look like a fool if it means I’m trying something new.  Whether it was trying sake and sushi (not unagi), shooting a shotgun for the first time, snowshoeing, or seeing a psychic go out and see what different things are out there.  You won’t regret it.

10. Pause any and all freak outs…until you’re 30

The montage of the friends’ 30th birthdays makes me dread the day I will in fact turn 30.  But the good news is that it will take six years plus to get there.  A person’s 20s have been coined as the best years of their life.  You are experiencing the world for the first time, and while it may suck at times, you are really learning a lot about yourself.  Plus commitments aren’t hugely straining.  For me, I don’t have a wife, kids, house, or job to worry about.  So when I graduate with my Master’s degree in May, I can hit the ground running.  I could move wherever I’d like to, go to happy hours and for the most part do whatever I want. Of course that will entail getting a job and starting to get my professional life off the ground. I have six great years of freedom left before I can freak out about getting old.  I’m 23 – I’m in my prime and I can’t forget that.

11. Moving out and on is inevitable

Whether it was the apartment bet of “who knows who” or Rachel moving out after Monica and Chandler got together, this show showed how moving out and moving on is inevitable. I miss my college apartment – 166 Blaine held so many fun memories.  But the people made the apartment, not the other way around.  I still talk to my roommates and consider them my best friends.  But just as each of the “Friends” had multiple apartments and homes, so too will we have multiple homes.  The truth is we make a home wherever we go.  We may have to leave a few things and people behind, but we always keep them in our hearts.  And while we move on and out, the love in our heart always remains constant.

12. Run like nobody is watching

Phoebe’s form of running that embarrassed Rachel was some of the best running I’ve seen.  It’s because by the end of the episode Phoebe’s attitude of not caring what others think rubs off on Rachel who gives the unusual form of running a try.  The best part of not caring what others think of you is that you can honestly and genuinely be yourself.  When that happens you attract people who appreciate your true self and from their you live your life, by your own rules and your own expectations.  That is by far the only way a person should live.  Not to mention you get to ignore the nay sayers who are so stuck in their own form of negativity that they aren’t realizing life (and you) are passing them by.

13. Never let your food go to waste – even if it ends up on the floor

The episode where Rachel and Chandler fall in love with cheesecake and end up eating it off the hallway floor because their so obsessed was another favorite episode.  And I can admit that this has happened to me.  It was cheesecake and it happened to tip over in the back of my mom’s car one Thanksgiving.  But it is cheesecake and letting any bit of cheesecake go to waste is a sin.  A mortal sin.  If you love cheesecake enough to eat it off the floor, don’t let anything or anyone stop you.

Okay, I’m obsessed with cheesecake along with many other types of food. But more important than cheesecake is your own dreams and that’s where this metaphor is going.  If something makes you happy but it happens to be on the floor – meaning a job that doesn’t make a lot of money, or a hobby that others don’t approve of – don’t allow yourself not to pull out your fork and enjoy every last bite.  While others may not eat cheesecake that has fallen to the ground because it is beneath them, whatever makes you happy is your own treasure – or cheesecake if you will – and you should never let any bit of negativity get in the way of that.

14. Never settle for a job that is less than one you love

Chandler following his dream job and not dealing with data reconfiguration (I think that’s what we finally found out his job was) was a moment of relief.  After years of hating his job, he finally was doing what he loved and it is a lesson we often forget in the way of money and fame.  There’s a saying that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.  For me, it has been a long route finding my own passion and that is still developing. But what I do know is that I love to write and as long as I get to write in my profession, tell stories and work with fun, diverse people I will be a happy man.  I’ve learned that the nonprofit world – where I’ve been specializing my education – is all based on storytelling.

15. But don’t allow work to be your sole motivation

Rachel ditching Paris for Ross showed that our life shouldn’t be centered around our work, but rather our work should be centered around the people that matter in our lives. You’ve already read that I love to try something new and different.  I’m always trying to scratch something off my bucket list because I think that making my life solely around a job can be quite boring.  I’ve recently been slaving away at a Master’s Thesis, working more hours to save money, and doing well at my assistantship.  But when I give those things so much priority I begin to lose the fun that I thrive on.  Sure, those things are an absolute priority and I won’t be ditching out on them anytime soon, but life is all about balance.  If you are working hard and not playing just as hard, you’re living life the wrong way.

16. Coffee isn’t just a fatigue killer

The endless cups of coffee the “Friends” had at Central Perk, weren’t merely a means of getting energy.  They were bonding beverages.  Whether it’s out at the bar, or at the coffeeshop it’s always a good idea to stop and share a drink with your friends.   In college my circle of friends frequented Mulligan’s Brick Bar when of course we weren’t occupying tables in the library and chugging cups of coffee from Tim Horton’s.  Truth be told we have our regular places and our regular drinks and meals and when we share that with a group of people we have this wonderful group identity that bonds us.  It can be as simple as a cup of coffee, or a table in the library, or the bar of choice, but whatever the case, sharing something with a group of friends is quite spectacular.

17. If you’re bad at advice, try sarcasm, or whatever you are good at

When I am asked for advice I try to pair it with something funny – sometimes in the form of sarcasm. It’s my own way of trying to help a friend while bringing a smile to their face. Truth be told, in every group of friends no two people are the same.  Every person approaches life differently.  We may be able to identify certain friends as the funny one, the spontaneous one, the level-headed one – the list goes on and on.  Each of the ‘Friends’ was truly different but the group blended so great together.  That’s how each of our own circles of friends are. We may have a Chandler who is horrible at advice, so he’d rather stick to sarcasm.  We may have a know-it-all like Ross, a flirt like Joey, a free-spirit like Phoebe, a perfectionist like Monica, a sociable, drama queen like Rachel.  No matter who makes up your group of friends, they all bring something to the table that is needed in your life.  The gift of friendship keeps on giving.

18. Even when you say goodbye, it really isn’t over

Twenty years after its premiere, ten years after the finale, and we still love Friends. But the excitement of waiting for a new episode to premiere on Thursday night is now replaced with watching reruns in syndication.  Truth be told, Friends was the show that made me fall in love with TV, especially sitcoms.  Because of that I was able to go on and fall in love with a new show, How I Met Your Mother and appreciate television sitcoms on a whole new level.  Just as our favorite TV shows come to an end, so do certain parts of our lives.  We close certain chapters and open others, but in the end we have one unforgettable book to look back on.

19. Laughter is the best medicine

This show was the sitcom of its time and still continues to be as so many people have shared their memories at the show’s 20th anniversary. It was a classic sitcom that had its own unique twist, all the while giving us laughs that we needed.  We were able to relate to these friends and felt like they were our very own.  They helped us to laugh at the things in our own lives and really appreciate humor.  Laughing is so crucial to life, because if your not laughing, your just not enjoying life to its fullest potential.  Laughter is the best medicine.  It can be what saves your day, or what puts the icing on the cake.  So laugh a little.

20. Friends are the family you choose.

It may sound cliché, but it is true. I have learned through all my friendships that friends are really the family you choose.  You may not have the same DNA, but you love your friends and truly understand and appreciate the unique gifts they bring to your life.  Good or bad, happy or sad they are there – just like the theme song states.  I’ll always be there for my friends, because they have always been there for me.  Whether it’s going on a roadtrip, or staying in and watching Netflix, they are there.  If it’s doing a bar crawl on Allen Street, or running through the sprinklers at Canisius, they are there.  If it was losing a loved one, opening a heart to a significant other, winning an award, or losing out on an amazing opportunity, they are there. If it’s a failed test, a broken heart, a new job, or a new love, my friends have been there, and will continue to be there.  I honestly have the best friends a guy could ask for and I love that this show exists to remind us all to appreciate our friends.  My friends have given so much to my life and taught me so much about the world and about myself.  But most important of all, my friends have taught me so much about love.

…Then there are the people, the friends I have had the pleasure to call my family. There were parties, happy hours, late-night and overnight library sessions, accomplishments, defeats, surprises, heartbreaks, there were simple hellos and in-depth conversations. All of these things, the unforgettable memories and even the everyday things will be so greatly missed. If I was to log my hours of my college career most hours were spent in the library where I would meet friends, do homework, solve problems, talk about life, the future, and just laugh about things people would think were crazy. That is what makes a family: the friends that do not have a biological connection, but the ones who have such a strong love and admiration for one another that blood does not matter. Love is the one element that has managed to bring me into the lives of people I would never had imagined talking with, studying with and laughing with. But it is love that has been the blessing of bringing them into my lives and truly making me see things more fully and clearly. They have changed me and have bettered me all by being the truly unique and beautiful individuals they are…
-(From Gorc Meets World April 26, 2013 – Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.)

It is good to see that like the love for Friends some things never change.


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