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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The company we keep: The impact of people and things we surround ourselves with

Wilfred Peterson said it best- “Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it...”

In case you hadn’t noticed, time is a precious and fleeting thing. There are only so many days left in our lives, and wasting them on people or pursuits that bring nothing positive to our lives is the ultimate waste of time and energy.

Every day you hear cynical lamentations on how unfair the world is, and I won’t argue that it isn’t.  The Serenity Prayer is brilliant because it reminds us that certain things can be changed, but others cannot. Having the wisdom to know the difference is what gives us the serenity needed to go on. One of the most critical changes a person may need to make is who they choose to spend their precious time with.

Consider “who, what, and where” we are spending our precious days and nights. I firmly believe the people we surround ourselves with, the places we go, and the things we do, define who we are. For better, or for worse. As Peterson so poignantly said in his quote, walking with people who enrich and uplift us makes it possible for us to leave this world a better place. If we surround ourselves with people or pursuits that bring us down, or stuck in one place, what hope can we have to bring ourselves, or anyone else, up?

If anyone believes people won’t be judged by their friends and associates, they are in for a huge shock. People will always assume you are like-minded if you spend your time with negative, hateful, narrow-minded people. And why shouldn’t they? If all your associates are people who love sports, of course it makes sense to believe that you love sports too. And while it is an assumption, it is one that is based on strong and conclusive evidence. 

To that point, if you are a person who associates with scholars, academics, students, and learned people, it is a very strong indication that you are also an intelligent person who values learning and knowledge. Consider people who are in groups that adhere to certain codes and ethics, like the U.S.military, The Boy Scouts of America, or Doctors without Borders. Then consider people who are in groups that espouse anti-social values- gangs and organized crime. Those are extreme examples, but there are other groups and organizations that will cause people to judge and make conclusions on a person’s choices and values. It is important to understand how those choices can impact success and image. 

Most people will have diverse friends and groups in their lives. Fortunate people will have a wide and eclectic blend of associates who meet the different needs for a variety of interests. I believe the most successful people surround themselves with people who bring a positive outlook, useful solutions, and thoughtful opinions to the table. Choosing to only spend time with people who aren’t as smart, or motivated, or funny as we are may make us feel good about ourselves, but they aren’t challenging us to be better.

A fragile ego, or a lazy attitude may make us feel safe and in control when we choose friends who aren’t as successful as we are. We really don’t improve unless we reach higher and increase expectations of ourselves, and our associates. Nothing is as sad and boring as a group of people who have known each other for years, and are STILL talking about the same people, things, and events they’ve been talking about for the past 10-20 years!

Surrounding oneself with mindless sycophants is missing a great opportunity for growth and introspection. The best and most helpful friend is one who will tell you when you have stepped beyond reason, and ground you in reality. The best friend is one who praises in public and criticizes in private. 

Young people often fail to understand how important it is to surround themselves with friends and mentors who challenge their views and give them pause to reflect. Immature individuals lack the ability to see themselves as they truly are, and work to improve and grow.

Spending energy on and maintaining relationships with, people who bring us down- both morally and intellectually- is perhaps the greatest reason for failure. If a person limits their sphere of interaction based on their self-image and ideal, they are cheating themselves of true wisdom. 

Learning from mistakes can be the best way to really understand life. But, making the same mistakes over and over again is the surest way to lose hope for lasting success. Time is the limiting factor. If you spend your time learning the same lessons again and again, you have lost valuable time to learn new lessons. The same is true with the people we surround ourselves with. Do they only bring problems to the relationship? Are they reciprocal in their duties as friend or co-worker? Are they truly beneficial to our wellness? How do they help us improve, or are they an impediment to our own growth or success? These are questions to ask and determine. Far too many people are brought down by people in their lives who wallow in ignorance, arrogance, a lack of integrity.

I have learned the hard way, so I can say with assurance, if you surround yourself with people who lack integrity, honesty, or kindness it will reflect on you and inevitably influence your behavior and choices. Sometimes, the only way to have a better life is to remove those people, or activities, that are bringing you down.

It can be painful, lonely, and sad to lose people who have been a part of one’s life for years. Growth means leaving behind things that no longer fit us. True maturity means being able to honestly assess the value of relationships and habits. It hurts to grow and change.

Surround yourself with people who inspire and uplift. No one is perfect, and perfection is hardly a reasonable measure to aspire to. I have learned important lessons from some very bad people, but the greatest lessons of my life were learned from good, decent, caring, and intelligent people who gave me knowledge and a thirst for more! Don’t cheat yourself out of success by refusing to uplift yourself and surround your life with people who challenge and inspire you to do bigger and better!


  1. Good post and you're right, it can be painful to seem to grow apart from good friends who have become very negative at most everything. But Surrounding oneself with people who inspire and uplift, man that's the best. I can have some really bad days but those around me quickly lift me up and help me see life for what it is, a miracle to be cherished everyday. Thanks for the post.

    1. So grateful for your remarks. I appreciate the feedback and your comments.