We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with – or so the saying goes. Some will dispute the specifics, but the concept holds a great deal of truth. All too often we ignore or underestimate how detrimental it is to surround ourselves with unambitious, negative people who lack a solid set of principles. This is why I am absolutely merciless in choosing the people I spend the majority of my time with. There’s every reason to be.
Five might be an arbitrary number, but if you want a surprisingly accurate look at someone turn your attention instead to the people they surround themselves with. It might seem counterintuitive, but you can learn a great deal about a person based on their immediate social circle.
The handful of people you spend the most time with are those whose behaviors and ideas have the greatest influence on you. Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, they will affect your decision making in some way.
Those who have a solid grasp of this concept know how advantageous is to be selective and associate instead with positive people who share a similar worldview and principles. It’s a far more effective, rewarding use of your time and energy.
Positive relationships challenge each person to learn and improve in some facet of life. There’s a mutual respect and admiration at its foundation as you each strive to live in accordance to your values. If those closest to you aren’t making you better (and vice versa), they’re making you worse and it’s a relatively worthless relationship. Even if it falls into a middle ground, stagnancy is detrimental in its own right.
When you give little thought to those you surround yourself with, the end result is relationships based on convenience and void of substance. Aside from being an unnecessary burden, they undermine any meaningful progress towards your individual aspirations and goals. If you’re upset about your current behaviors or decisions, take a look at the five people you spend the most time with. I’d be willing to bet that they’re not helping your cause.
Attempting to fight the current when those surrounding you are barreling in the opposite direction is a fool’s errand, impossible for most.
When you allocate most of your time to people who are headed in another direction and who don’t share similar values, you can bet yours will be diminished in some way. This doesn’t always mean they’re malicious in their intent; sometimes it’s just an indication that you’re at different stages in life.
One of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, has a great piece on the different stages of life. He breaks it down into four parts: mimicry, self-discovery, commitment and legacy. It’s an interesting look at our natural progression and how each subsequent stage reshuffles our priorities, granting us greater control over our lives and wellbeing. Some people get stuck, others refuse to move on, but when you find yourself at a different stage than the people around you, the fundamental disconnect in values becomes difficult to bridge.
Your immediate circle of five will almost always identify with the same stage as you; the exception is that of a mentor. This is to be expected as you are facing a set of similar challenges and negotiating the world through a similar lens. Your priorities and values might not be an identical match, but they’re within the same realm.
When you do find yourself at a different stage than those around you, it’s okay to politely part ways. People come and go. That’s part of life.
Of course there will also be times when you encounter people who are at the same stage but are just piss-poor humans. It’s delusional to think you can avoid malicious people altogether. You should treat them with compassion, but that’s where you draw the line. They should never consume a significant amount of your time or come within a stone’s throw of your immediate social circle.
Surrounding yourself with people who embody the principles you aspire to live your life by is the most important thing you can do if you want to grow as a person. The five people you spend the most time with should make you better, and it goes both ways. They should challenge you to expand your worldview, be the best version of yourself, and value rationality above all.
Take a closer look at the handful of people you spend the most time with. If you are the average of this group, is it someone you can be proud of? You should never settle when it comes to your immediate five. Strive to build and grow relationships of substance, not convenience. These are the people who matter most.