I just came back from San Francisco visiting friends for a few days and gorging on copious amounts of specialty foods at the Winter Fancy Food Show.

It was fantastic. Despite my travel delays, forgetting my license while standing at the front of the security line in Burlington, and getting shin splints walking three hours a day in San Francisco, it was a much needed trip that encouraged deep-thought.

Today, I’m writing about the thoughts I had on the plane home to Vermont.

The flight caused me to reflect on how important these close, intimate relationships with my friends are. But, I realized they’re important for reasons I hadn’t considered before. What am I talking about?

Friends are there to challenge you.

They want to push you – get you off the couch to exercise, apply to a new job, and get out of an emotionally-risky relationship. When you turn left, friends make you strongly consider turning right.

If all your friends did was bring you cookies and pretend everything was ok, they wouldn’t be too much of a friend (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not refusing cookies). But, take this other scenario: A friend brings over a sharpened sword and says “I want to sword fight” you’d probably run the other direction,right?.

But you can’t. You have to face the friends who present you with challenges. You can’t just run away from it.

That’s pressure. Pressure to remain calm, think about your next move and execute. Do you swing randomly or wait to make the next move? You clashed swords? Try another angle. Go for the knees. Eventually, one of you will win. An idea, trip, perspective, or opinion will be impaled. It’ll die. But, you’ll feel challenged. Challenged by another perspective – another person outside of your personal comfort zone. Challenged by the words you didn’t want to hear.

But, that’s what friends are for.

Friends help you prepare for the bigger battle.

When I hang out with my friends, conversations are deep. They’re about life, finance, relationships, challenges at work, and trying to find happiness in it all. Friends are there to help you train. To face your fears. And to help you realize something you may never have known.

I look for people who challenge me, encourage me to defend my beliefs, and stand-up for what I believe in. Friends who are there for the training and the aftermath. Friends who will go to battle.

Find friends who will help you go to battle.

Because that’s what life is. It’s a battle. And you have to be prepared.