Those Five People

A common piece of guidance that people mention a lot is you are the company you keep. It’s meant to be both a reflection on who you are based on the choices you make of friends, associates and colleagues, but it’s also about the influence those people you spend so much time with have on you.  It’s summed up nicely by Jim Rohn as follows:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

(Side note – If you are one of those high-minded goobers who get twitterpated over the idea of ending your sentence in prepositions, y’all need to take a deep breath and reassess your priorities. You should also read this.)

From a macro level view, this advice makes sense, provided you take it as general guidance to be reflective on who gets your precious time.  We should all be mindful of that since, let’s be frank, some people get far too much time from us who simply don’t deserve it.

However, the thing that’s always struck me in a weird way about this phrase is when it’s used as advice, it implies you then have complete choice over who those people are.  We often cannot choose our coworkers.  Are you going to upend your career every time there are less-than-awesome folks in your immediate work groups?  Every workplace has them in some form or another and while you shouldn’t settle, you also probably shouldn’t think you will eliminate those kinds of people 100% of the time.

And what about your family, especially if you are a parent with kids?  I don’t think protective services is going to cast a kind eye in your direction if you sit down with your middle schoolers to tell them they need to go away because they are seriously harshing your mellow, bro.

So the question is what to do in those situations since we all likely have some of those Fab Five who aren’t that fabulous or don’t add positive value to our lives.

I think it’s one of three approaches:

  1. Replace those people if you can. (And that’s a bit IF).
  2. Reduce the amount of time you do spend with them.
  3. Increase the positive content you bring into your own life.

It’s #3 that I have been thinking about the most because while it has it’s shortcomings, I think there is often more value here than people may realize.

If there are people who occupy time in your life that you cannot simply get rid of, you can still proactively bring good things into your life.  I am continuously surprised by the extent to which reading the right things, listening to the right things (lectures, podcasts, etc.) and spending the right time (prayer, meditation, quiet time, etc.) can blunt the effects of negativity.

It’s better to have the right 5 people, I do think, since I think their impact is hard to match, but given that we live in a time when we have more options available on the kinds of information and content we bring into our lives, why wouldn’t anyone fill their gray matter up with that as much as they can?  Because even if you cannot choose those 5 people freely, you certainly can choose freely that content in your life.

In fact, this is a big part of my upcoming social media break for Lent because I am finding the amount of negative I get from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. is high (drama, negativity, habitual need to check for updates and likes and mentions and comments while not spending enough time being present with the people right there in front of me) and dwarfing the positive I receive.  I would even argue that, for most people these days, one of those five people may be a social media presence… or perhaps Facebook as an entity is one of those five.  It has been for me.

So assess the people most in your life and think about if they portray who you are and want to be.  That’s good for any of us to do… provided we do it without a sense of smug superiority like we are a queen choosing suitors for our clearly much-desired attention.  But remember we can each make more subtle shifts to change what the daily content of our days can be.

Come Ash Wednesday on March 1st, mine will change quite a bit.  Time to see where it goes.

Neat and Tidy Little Boxes

Change comes in a lot of forms.  Sometimes it is the blinding flash of light epiphany like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I think a lot of times, it’s more of a slow build over time.  For me, the latter tends to be true much more often than the former.  It certainly was the case recently when I finally accepted for myself that powerlifting was not the draw it once was for me.

While the change was slow and over time, I can think of two more distinct moments that helped drive this path.

The first was returning to playing indoor soccer a year or two ago (before being driven off by nagging injuries).  I thought I was in fine shape – I was stronger than I had ever been, I had been working back in conditioning and I thought I was ready to roll.  Then, I hit the field and stumbled around, moving with a grace that could be described as “wooden” if we were being highly charitable about it.

The second was when I went out to EliteFTS for a training session and seminar.  I went heavier on deadlifts than I had in a long time… and in the days that followed, my training felt crushed.  My recovery was just not great and I felt beat up for the umpteenth time.

In the days that followed that, I realized that returning to my athletic roots as a focal point moving forward was what I wanted.  I thought I was always training to be a strong athlete and realized I spent a lot of time on the strong and not nearly enough on the athlete portion of that mix.  Maybe I came to this realization because I was older and wiser.  Maybe it was because my body was yelling loud and long at me “Bro…this ain’t working out like you think it is.”  Maybe age was catching up with me (although I fight this notion with every core of my being that age should ever be an acceptable excuse for not doing what you love).

Regardless of the reasoning, I knew that at 44, it was time to change course for myself and get back to what I knew would be enjoyable for me in the long term.

The funny thing about all of this is part of the reason I struggled with making this change over the last year or two was how easy it had become to be too concerned with a neat and tidy label for what I was as a lifter. I was a POWERLIFTER.  That was a distinct classification and readily identified me as part of a community of likeminded folks.  There is comfort and power in that kind of identity – we’re social creatures and community matters.

But what happens when, as the cliché states, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze?  That the enjoyment you derive from that has gone way down for what you get back from the work and sacrifice?

What if I went back to training that did not have that neat and tidy little box that had become so cozy for me?  The opportunity to provide a ready answer when people asked what kind of lifter I was? How would I answer that question?

In the days following that lifting session in Ohio, I smiled and realized exactly how I would answer that question… any damn way I really wanted.  I’m a lifter and an athlete.  No other details needed beyond that.  I lift heavy weights.  I throw things around.  I row.  I do yoga.  I play golf.  I sprint hills.  I push Prowlers.  I will, hopefully, start running again.  I may even play soccer again (if my right knee will stop being an obstinate pain in the ass and get on board with this plan).

Those boxes are tempting for everyone and often we slide into them without even realizing it’s happening – they can be lovely boxes, perhaps velvet-lined and gorgeous.  If you want to be part of that group, that’s clearly not a bad thing at all.  But when you realize it’s more convenience or comfort than conscious choice, that’s when things get interesting (and something I’ve thought about before when I wrote “Your Pathetic Little Box” a few years back).  And that’s why this Churchill quote hits home so much with me:

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I’ve chosen a new path and I must admit the details of a lifting program aren’t terribly interesting to anyone but the person writing it or training under it.  The interesting part is assessing your why and seeing if it’s what you want or just part of a sitting in your neat and tidy little box.

Because the thing about those boxes?  They are a certain shape and a certain size… and you can only grow in them just so much.

And I never want to stop growing.