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.

The Clothes Make the Man

IMG_1592If by some chance of fate I was told that the outfit I am wearing today is the only  style of clothing I would be allowed to wear for the rest of my life, I would drop to my knees and shout “THANK YOU!” unto the heavens.  Ridiculous?  Dramatic?  High potential for skinning of knees?  Yes, my friends… all of these things… but also very true.  If I could pretty much dress as pictured (you cannot see my snazzy Adidas sandals, unfortunately) for the remainder of my days, I would be one happy and comfy guy.

The t-shirt/shorts/baseball hat/hoodie/sandals ensemble may not be a perfect example of sartorial splendor to many, but for me, it’s the outfit that… well… I just feel most like me in.

The title of this blog post is, admittedly, misleading because my take on “the clothes make the man” is about 2 things: how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.  I am only interested in the latter in this case.  For me, I put on this gear and I can feel myself unwind and have a much more relaxed outlook on my day whereas wearing a suit immediately sticks me into a “GAME TIME!” sort of focus.  I also tend to feel overly formal in a suit (I know… truly surprising) and if you know me that well, I am not one for overly formal.  I am more one for random and inane comments out of the blue because life is way too short to take myself overly seriously.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasing fascination with the effects of environment on the way we think, live and act.  Your clothes form a kind of environment for you, but I’ve also am curious about how where we work and live effects each of us.  It could possibly come from working in a big corporate environment where so many people (including me for most of my working time here) reside in gray/beige cubes with fluorescent lighting for 8+ hours every day… 5 days a week… 49 to 50 weeks a year.  You don’t think that effects your outlook to some measurable degree?  Or how you problem solve?

Let’s compare and contrast.  Look at the following two photos and focus on where you think you would be a better worker and (for purposes of this blog post) a better thinker:

cubicle2 Emerald and Onyx Office

Am I cheating to make my own argument easier?  I honestly don’t think so.  Now granted, I am not expecting the Fortune 500 to suddenly ditch cube walls and give everyone an office with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean or to create a veritable indoor rainforest as pictured here.

The big question I have is this: Is the trade off in cost and space efficiency worth more than the potential creativity and new ideas generated through more open and engaging workspaces?  I believe this to be true, but I obviously do not have hard empirical data, fancy charts or a glossy report assembled by McKinsey & Company to back me up… and that’s what big corporations expect for making big decisions.  It’s just a fact.

I think there is certainly a better path forward away from a soul-crushing drabness to something more engaging and intellectually stimulating for office workers every where… and I think it’s a true win-win.  Happier employees in better environments are also going to be more productive.  That’s just science.

Now I am going to go and enjoy a different piece of environment to reset my focus: back patio and in the sun doing a whole lot of nothing.  That’s a good mental state in which to reside.

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