This next post may come off as crass, but I assure you that that is not at all my intention. Instead, I state this because I absolutely believe in the power of this idea. Over the years, I’ve looked at a lot of ways to figure out what has worked with me when it comes to a goal, an aspiration, or something I truly wanted to be. Those goals have fluctuated, and they have made themselves manifest at different times.

– In my youth, I wanted to be a martial artist.

– In my later youth, I wanted to be a fashion model.

– As a young adult, I wanted to be a musician.

– As a slightly older young adult, I wanted to be a great snowboarder.

– During this same time, I wanted to have a bodybuilder level physique.

– As a middle aged man, I wanted to be an excellent Boy Scout leader.

– These past few years, I have wanted to be a Rock Star level tester.

I made at least some progress in all of the areas, and many of the goals I made some pretty good progress with. Martial arts, modeling and bodybuilding were moderately successful endeavors, but ultimately they fell by the wayside. The musician, snowboarding, scouting and testing aspects of my life, however, I was able to do much more and go farther in those than I ever imagined. Why? because I surrounded myself with PEOPLE that shared those passions.

From this, I’ve come up with something I call the ‘Five Friends Rule”. Think about something in your life that has a “fitness” quotient to it:

–  physical fitness
–  financial fitness
–  spiritual fitness
–  knowledge of a given area
–  performance in a given area

If you’d like to know where you reside in any of those spheres, if you were to look at your five closest friends, and examine those areas, it’s likely that you would be the average of those five friends.

There’s ancient wisdom in this. It’s in the Aesop’s Fable phrase of “birds of a feather flock together”. If you hang out with the “same old crew”, five years from now, you will probably be roughly in the same place as the “same old crew”. Charles “Tremendous” Jones is the originator of one of my favorite quotes:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

The books we read tend to open us up to new ideas and ways of thinking (and for today’s world, I would also include my Twitter stream and my blog roll). The people we hang out with, though, will help us determine whether or not we actually do something with the knowledge that we have learned.

Here’s an example. You feel frustrated that you are not in good physical shape. There’s lots of evidence that points to not just what you do and what you know, but who you hang out with and interact with, that will determine your overall success. If you hang out with five relatively inactive people, in the long run, your physical fitness will likely be in the average of those five closest friends. Why? Because for them to be your closest friends, they are the people you actually interact with!

To make a change that will last, very often it means, at least in that sphere, you make a new set of closest friends, or to be more kindly worded, you hang out with people who share that particular goal! People who will encourage you, inspire you, and make you want to excel and achieve. Why is this? I believe it’s because the interactions are what make the long term behaviors stick. Could we achieve it all on our own? It’s possible, but it’s a lot more likely with a “social network”, and the most powerful social network is basically the five people you are closest to.

I enjoyed being a singer, but it was my various band mates who drove me on to get better, write better and perform better over nearly a decade I tried to be a performer. My competitive snowboarding exploits were phenomenally encouraged by people of various ages, some younger and some lots older, to get out there and push myself to the limit each year. I became a solid scout leader when I committed to learning from other solid scout leaders and getting to know them better and how they were successful (which included getting myself into the Wood Badge community, and that deserves a post all its own 🙂 ) and finally, I have made quantum leaps in my sphere as a software tester in just the past two and a half years because of the people that I have had the pleasure to interact with and call my friends. Had I not met and interacted with these people, it’s likely I’d be in a very different place right now, doing very different things.

This can kind of be summed up, and now I am being a little crass for humor’s sake:

– If you want to be better read, hang out with people who read a lot of books.
– If you want to be in great physical shape, hang out with people who exercise a lot.
– If you want to be wealthy, hang around with rich people.

OK, that last one is indeed crass, but it’s not entirely wrong, either. Let’s say your dream was that you wanted to create a successful start up. Do you do that by dreaming about it? Sure, a little bit. Do you do it by executing? Lots more of that, to be sure. By surrounding yourself with others who have done similar things, and have life lessons that will help you achieve your goals, do you think you have a better shot at being successful? Absolutely!

If “birds of a feather flock together” is the ancient message, perhaps the modern day equivalent to this is “either you change your organization (you foster the change among your friends to bring them up to your level in [fill in the blank]), or you change your organization (by finding people that share your passion for [fill in the blank] so that you can be successful at it).

Note: I am in no way advocating that you abandon your best friends if they don’t share your interests in a particular area. There are lots of facets that inform our friendships with others, and to put too much emphasis on one area would make us all very shallow friends, indeed. Still, if you really do have aspirations to do something big, to change something on a macro level in your life, much of the time, the company you keep will ultimately determine how far you get.