Thinking About

Admiration Isn’t Optional

Three ingredients to valuable relationships

Kate Green Tripp


Photo: Denis Agati / Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about my relationships lately, the crown jewels in particular. And by that, I mean all types and vintages — the ones I was born into (or were born unto me), the ones I groomed painstakingly over the years, the ones I’ve fallen into with ease or by necessity, and the fresh ones just barely taking shape.

Of course that thinking also inspires some flashlight shining into my own crevices of heart and mind. Because what are relationships if not vehicles for enhanced self-understanding?

I used to believe (with a vengeance) that different people in my life served different needs. These days, I claim that truth loosely. Sure, what I ask of my neighbor may look different than what I ask of my boss. How I play with my workout buddy won’t mirror how I cry into the phone with my best friend (except when it does). But is what I appreciate about each of these meaningful alliances so dissimilar? Increasingly, I think not.

How we shape our networks and families and what we give to, and draw from, the people within them is certainly prone to morph with time and circumstance. My life has shifted drastically in recent years. And yet, along with the variations, I notice a steady base line of consistency. I notice more and more how the people I hold dearest stack up around a key set of similarities — three “ingredients” you might say. And though I can only report on my own hit rate in each with a mild degree of accuracy, I do know these same ingredients are ones I try to deliver on.

For one, my favorite humans — allies of all persuasions— inhabit themselves. They either know (or are studiously attending to learning) who they are. This sounds simple but is, in fact, damn hard and likely to induce frequent nausea and horror. A rigorous attention to one’s own humanness, particularly the messy bits, might be the quality I most admire in just about anyone. I’d rather you puke than pretend.

Consider the domino effect here. It’s remarkable. If how you show up on the outside aligns with what you carry on the inside, not only do I feel you, but our connection invites me to feel myself more clearly. Your presence grants me permission to be more of me, which is no small thing. Isn’t that the magic touch of the world’s most graceful teachers, parents, and healers?

Next, they value process over result.

How my time with someone I love unfolds is often just as important as what we do with that time. If the energy between us feels alive, the shared activity is likely to be delightful — no matter how cumbersome or loaded with expectation. And if the thing we’re doing flops horribly, who cares? I measure worth not by performance, but by the quality of feeling in my body and the attention we each give the moment. Sounds subtle (and atypical to some ears, no doubt) but oy, have I found it to be mammoth and life-giving.

And finally, admiration just isn’t optional.

Thanks to a mile-high stack of books and a lot of time on a meditation cushion, I think I have finally worked out how to love someone while not admiring their choices or behaviours. I’m mighty pleased with that breakthrough but I can’t say I count those challenging ties among my crown jewels (maybe that will shift after another decade of reading and chanting).

For now, what I know about how I tick is that to connect with you down deep, we gotta admire each other. I gotta love what you carry, imperfections and all, and feel it bounce back. Your sharp humor, grand success, or practiced poise might be airtight — but to me, it’s a detail if it doesn’t sit adjacent to genuine admiration you inspire in others, provide to the world, and (hopefully) offer yourself too.



Kate Green Tripp

Writer / Editor / Strategist. Comms Director, Stanford Impact Labs. I chase ideas & shape stories about science, society & innovation. Mostly, I belong outside.