I've heard, my whole life that the company I keep matters. The people I choose to 'hang around' with somehow set my reputation, good or bad, because people actually do judge a book by the cover or least by the people she hangs out with.
My teenage self would have scoffed and done an internal eye roll and replied, "You're so closed-minded, Dad. People are people. I don't care what anyone things anyway."
Fast forward twenty-five years, and I have to admit my parents were right but perhaps a little short-sighted in how they explain the importance of the company we keep.
For me, as I look back on my choices (in friendships and otherwise), I see that my friend-group and inner-circle matters far more than I ever thought but for reasons that go well beyond my reputation and what others may (or may not) think of me.
Basically, what anyone else thinks is small potatoes in the grand scheme of why my inner-circle matters and why I'm now extremely cautious and careful about the company I keep. What does matter is how these people influence me, both internally and externally.
For example, if I hang out with unhappily-married people, I tend to become less happy in my own marriage. When I spend time with women who dislike their husbands, complain about marriage, etc., I tend to take this attitude. To be fair, I’ve also been this women, and I suspect it’s why I once lost a friendship. If you want to be happily married, avoid copious amounts of time with other people who dislike their spouses. Seriously. I have a friend back in Arizona who is happily married, through good times and bad, and she is always on her husband’s side, always gives him the benefit of the doubt and always tries to remain grateful. She’s not Pollyanna about it. But she doesn’t see the value in blaming her partner for life’s inevitable ups and downs. I really value her friendship and find that when we chat more often, I take on a similar attitude.
A few months ago, a close friend decided to drop weight, stick to a workout plan and eat better. She got serious about it and, to date, has lost 40 pounds, radically changed her diet and has a solid, daily workout schedule. I have been totally inspired and since have tried several of the workout videos she’s suggested, more thoughtfully considered my own food choices and made a concerted effort to up my water intake. While I haven’t been as ‘radical’ about it all, she’s really inspired me to ‘do better’ and consider how to improve my overall health. It’s inspiring to see someone doing what she talks about instead of simply talking about it, and it made me consider the talk vs. do ratio in my own life.
I have still another friend who, after a few years of contemplating a change and agonizing over what to do, has gone back to school. She doesn’t need to. She makes excellent money in her current job, but she recognized she was stalling a bit, kind of spinning her well-paid wheels. She’s in her mid-forties, and she’s back in school. When I saw her do that, going through the process of applications and entrance essays, it inspired me to do the same. I really thought: hey…she’s doing it. I respect and admire her, and she’s willing to take the plunge. Why not me? I applied to school without telling anyone, lest I fail, but I always kept her in mind, and now the both of us are studying together, swapping details of our programs and considering working together when we complete our programs. I wonder if I would have actually applied and begun school if she hadn’t been there doing it first.
I have yet another friend going through drug and alcohol recovery, which means I’ve read a small heap about drug addiction, which has given me an entirely different perspective about addiction. I used to be much more judgmental and black-and-white about addiction, and while I haven’t experienced it myself and can’t talk about it with authority, I do feel much better informed and human about the entire subject. I feel like a window was opened for me, and I learned a lot about myself in reading about a struggle I may not face in one dimension (drugs/alcohol) but that I certainly face in others (mindless shopping/eating/web surfing). I feel like I’ve been humbled by watching my friend go through this, and I feel like that humbling has been a source of growth for me personally.
I have another friend who is publishing her first book this year. I remember reading it when she’d just written it, when she didn’t have an agent or editor or anything more than a first draft. Now, she’s setting up her book tour. That in inspiring to me. It makes me want to write more. It makes me want to dust off my old drafts. It makes me happy for her and excited for her and excited about the possibilities for me, too. I think that’s the key, that the people we love and spend our time with inspire us, make us want to be better ourselves, offer us a window into the world that was somehow closed to use before.
I could go on. I could write about my sister with her rose garden and the kitchen remodel she planned and executed with true vision. I could write about another friend living overseas as a Foreign Service Officer, traveling the world, hosting dignitaries and raising a family to boot. What all of these people have in common is that they challenge me, in some way, to rise up to another level and to be better. That’s kind of a hot-button word: better. Aren’t we supposed to wake up and be grateful for who we are today? Aren’t we supposed to be happy with what we’ve done so far? Maybe. But I do believe we can always be better, even if it’s just having a kinder attitude toward the struggles someone else faces or a gentler attitude toward ourselves or a little more hustle and a little less web surfing. I don’t think striving means unhappiness or dissatisfaction. I think striving means forward progress, and when I am making forward progress (no matter how slow), I am happier. I have purpose. I am moving instead of standing still.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famously quoted as saying: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
A lot of people mock that statement or scoff at it. I did. For years, I told myself I am not affected or influenced by the people around me. I was a rock. I didn’t let things shape me.
Hahahahaha. You all know I love to bless my own heart.
The truth is that we’re shaped by everything, so we’d better pay some attention to what we let into our worlds, who we include in our inner circle, and the influences we allow to shape our perspectives, our habits and our behaviors.
I am careful now….about the books I read, the television I watch, the blogs I subscribe to, the conversations I have and the people I meet for coffee, drinks, dinner and holidays. As I get older, I feel like my time is more valuable and my attention is worth more than I’d once realized. In a sense, it’s a currency I spend, and each time I give my attention away, I’ve spent a little bit from my wallet.
Have you ever thought of the five people you spend the most time with?
Are there relationships you realize may not have a positive impact on you?
Are there changes you need to make in the company you keep?
I will say this: moving may have its downside, but the upside is that I get a fresh start every few years, which has allowed me to really think hard about friendships, far and wide, and how I want to cultivate my life moving forward.
For now, that means another cup of coffee.
I hope everyone is prepped for a low-key, slowly unfolding Thanksgiving with no stress, no shoulds and plenty of au gratin potatoes. I splurged on a $70 bottle of wine, so I’ll be letting you know how that goes. Until then…..