It has been said, many times over in the FI community, that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.
While I do believe there is a large grain of truth in that statement, it also gives the individual an easy release from personal responsibility. Sure, you can choose who you’re around some of the time, but you can’t pick your coworkers, right? It’s not my fault I’m surrounded by a bunch of Negative Nelly’s all day, therefore the pervasive negativity in my brain isn’t my fault!
I think there is an appendix to the rest of that saying that is missing: You are the average of the five people around you most, multiplied by your reaction to their influence.
I know, not quite as catchy.
Where Is This Going?
A few articles ago, I dove into my background and how I developed my DIY skill set. In that article, I mentioned my time spent at a sign shop.
What I neglected to talk about, for reasons I am going to speculate as Length of Article Plus Overall Laziness, was the time I spent at another time shop in the middle of my semi-illustrious sign making career.
The sign shop I worked at was a very small affair, and therefore the margins were pretty tight. As it happens, business slowed down for a while, and my boss didn’t really know what to do with me. He didn’t want to lay me off, but he didn’t have the influx of business to justify my employment.
Another sign shop in a much larger city nearby, on the other hand, was slammin’. They were looking for some extra help, and somehow the two owners connected. Just like a pro athlete who has sold the rights to their body to a sports team, I got traded.
Winds of Change
This new shop was much bigger than the one I had come from, and the people who worked there were much more, shall we say, flagrant with their views of the world. It just so happened that these views didn’t match up with mine. In other words, they were stupid.
Ok, ok, that’s not really what I meant!
What I meant was, we had some disagreements. While this didn’t necessarily affect the physical work being done, it definitely affected the work environment. Especially for me as the outlier.
A major aspect of the general workplace personality that came about was the overall belief that that company was the best place to work, and I would most certainly come to that same conclusion given enough time there. As it was, I felt like the six months or so that I spent there was plenty.
The most influential aspect of this whole trade, and the part that sticks most firmly in my memory, is the phrase that was presented to me upon my final departure.
“You’ll be back.”
You Don’t Know Me!
Basically, what they were telling me as I walked out the door that final time was that I would eventually realize that their shop was the pinnacle achievement of my career, and that only by returning would I fulfill my destiny as a sign shop employee.
Only through their superior tutelage would my life’s purpose flourish, and I would surely come to my senses at some point and return to capitalize on said destiny.
The reason this sticks so clearly in my memory, and the reason this article has come to light, is the thought that ran through my head that day. The thought that eventually brought me the mental fortitude and drive to accomplish the goals that would bring me to my current career as an electrician.
I will never come back here.
I knew deep down that, whatever it took, I would do what had to be done to make sure that I didn’t have to work in an environment such as that again. Their disbelief in my ability to rise to my true potential has been a massive and pervasive influence on my decisions in the ensuing years.
Bring it Around to the Point
What I’m getting at here, in this long-winded and round-about way, is how external influences play roles in our lives.
Sure, we have a strong influence from the five people with whom we spend the most time. I was spending a little over 40 hours per week surrounded by people whose belief in my skills, talent, and growth potential was less than positive.
Rather than allow that heavy fog of negativity to drown me in low self-regard, I used it as fodder to light my inner fire. I took that shackle they threw upon me and used the weight as momentum rather than drag.
We are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time multiplied by our reaction to their influence.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation to the one in which I found myself so many years ago. You may be struggling with the thought that you fear they will change you for the worse. I felt that thought creeping into the back of my mind during the years I spent as an electrical apprentice, working under the tutelage of someone who thought that apprentices, along with women and minorities, should be treated as less than human.
I worried that I would be changed by these people, and in fact I was. The funny thing was, I changed in so many positive ways from these negative external influences.
I grew from a boy into a man, and in the face of constant minor adversity I was forced to develop an inner fortitude and resolve that has helped me in every aspect of my life since.
All of us face adversity in our lives. Some is more pervasive, some less so, but all of it has influence on who we become.
Will you let the toxic people around you bring you to their level? Or will you use the energy they are feeding you in ways that will lift you up to where you know you should be?
If you listen to and absorb the messages they are laying upon you, you allow yourself to be carried by their influence. If, on the other hand, you use their words as fuel for your intention, you may just find that to be one of the most motivating factors available.
As Bruce Lee said when talking about learning new things, “Keep what is useful to you, and discard the rest.”