How often have you found yourself in this situation? You blithely accept an invitation to catch up with some colleagues you haven’t seen in a while. Upon arriving, however, you realize your time together will be dominated by one person who can’t help but control the dinner conversation talking about his favorite topic: himself. Try as you might to change the subject, the narrator deftly routes the dialogue back to his preferred focus with another self-promotional story.
Although we are unlikely to avoid such people who are still busy proving themselves, whether in government, business, or even volunteer organizations, a recent such experience reminded me of the importance of being deliberate with our choices about those with whom we spend our time.
The frustration I felt at finding myself in this situation rested squarely on my shoulders, for I had failed to apply a lesson learned on more than one occasion: it matters who we spend our time with because it impacts who we are and who we are becoming.
From calculating the law of averages to shrinking degrees of separation in an increasingly interconnected world, there is extensive literature on this topic. Jim Rohn, the well-known motivational speaker, famously observed we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. And Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, wrote, “We’re friends with the people we do things with [and] associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces that we do.”
It may cause us to wonder whether we are truly intentional about the people with whom we choose to share our most valuable nonrenewable resource – time – or whether we just react to life as it comes at us, spending it randomly with the people who live near us or work with us.
I’m not sure whether the correct number is five, two, or twenty people, but I do know this. We are influenced and impacted – for better or for worse – by our associates. Whether silently or in more obvious ways, they affect us and we rub off on them. We shape one another through our relationships, particularly our regular ones.
Several years ago, I began keeping four lists of relationships I deliberately seek to foster:
- real life mentors (people I actually know and from whom I seek wisdom, knowledge, and expertise);
- virtual mentors (individuals who may be living or dead whose example I try to emulate, often through reading their writings);
- peers (friends and colleagues with whom an active, healthy relationship is mutually beneficial and positively reinforcing); and
- protégés (or as they’re sometimes called now, mentees – people I am actively influencing based on their request to learn from me and my desire to support and encourage them).
Over the years, some of the names on these lists have changed as people have drifted in and out of my life, my maturity and wisdom levels have evolved (hopefully for the better!), and I’ve lived in different places. But developing these personal little rosters has definitely paid dividends in more wisely spending my time with others.
Although life creates situations, whether through obligation, choice, or happenstance, where we must endure the occasional self-imbued dinner partner, we can help create more fruitful outcomes by being careful about how we spend our time. Let’s actively choose to use this precious resource with those we can help to improve and who, in turn, will improve us. This sort of deliberate relationship cultivation takes effort, but it is absolutely worth the investment.
Choose your five people wisely!