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:
- Replace those people if you can. (And that’s a bit IF).
- Reduce the amount of time you do spend with them.
- 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.