Growing up, the mother of a close friend of mine worked as a teacher. She always used to say that people looked at the wrong indicators to predict success. Grades, standardized testing, and essay writing almost never determined someone’s value. Instead, she could tell how someone was going to do in life based on the friends they kept in high school. If an individual spent time with people less intelligent than themselves, they were unlikely to ever reach their potential, having learned to aim lower than they could reasonably achieve. Similarly, if someone who was struggling decided to hang out with a more driven crowd, good habits were likely to wear off. Those are lifelong and largely subconscious lessons.
This did not make much sense to me at the time. I could not wrap my mind around anything beyond getting into college, and maybe my plans for the upcoming weekend. Thinking esoterically about how the circles I kept could potentially influence the rest of my life was completely beyond me. But as I got older, I realized that the old adage that “you are judged by your friends” is only half of the truth. Not only are you judged by the company you keep, but you are influenced by that company as well. Think about how much time you spend with your closest friends. You likely have the same interests, similar memories and experiences, maybe you have sought advice from one another in the past…now think about when that started. When did you begin turning to your friends to help you process experiences? When did you turn to them for support? High school? Maybe even earlier? Suddenly, the idea of predicting an individual’s future based on their high school friend group seemed reasonable.
It all comes down to culture. Culture, or a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices, can and do exist at the friendship level. As we grow up and begin careers, we look for cultures that are comfortable – that feel like something we have grown up with. That is how the financial industry wound up with such a prominent work hard/play hard culture. That isn’t taught to you during orientation, that is a deep-seated learned behavior that everyone who seeks a job in that industry is likely already a part of. Financial professionals gravitate towards cultures that they have already been exposed to.
This isn’t to say that if you kept a subpar group of high school friends, that you are doomed to underachieve. Identifying the cultures you want to keep happens continually throughout your life. Maybe it is time to take stock of the people around you. Are they lifting you up, or dragging you down? Can you position yourself to be influenced positively? Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum or through sheer force of will, sometimes we need to cultivate a culture of success. An easy place to start is with the people you spend time with.