Updated: Oct 26, 2021
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” -Jim Rohn
Basically, if you want to become successful and get ahead in life, just keep changing out the weakest link, right?
In my best Lee Corso impression: Not so fast!
There is a lot of truth and wisdom in the famous Jim Rohn quote, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with"; but what lesson should we take from it?
Reflect on your time as a teenager. I think everyone at one point in time was hanging out with a friend or two their parents didn’t particularly approve of. Why didn’t they approve? Because parents know the people we spend the most time with greatly influence our actions, and there’s science to back them up. Don’t take my word for it - Darren Hardy spends a fair amount of time on the subject in his book The Compound Effect talking about the studies. There are plenty of other blogs, articles, and books on the subject of peer influence, too.
I remember the first time I heard this Jim Rohn quote was in a seminar on sales skills that was pretty hardcore. It was the kind of "win at all costs" approach to sales that many people abhor. I love to learn, so I’ll sit through just about anything to find out not only how I want to do things, but also (probably more importantly) how I don’t want do things. One part of the seminar was around the concept of your five friends, and in another part, they used the phrase, "If you can’t change your friends, change your friends."
Simple success formula, right? Make a list of the five people you spend the most time with and just keep changing out the weak link and replacing them with a more successful link. By the law of averages, you’ll certainly become more and more successful.
I know. It’s ridiculous. I’m sure you see the obvious problems with this misinterpretation of Jim Rohn’s quote.
I went about my business for another decade or so, failing forward. (To clarify, in case you’re wondering: Of course I didn’t try to just change out my friends for more successful friends). Then, sometime around the time I got married and my first daughter was born, I came to an important realization: I’m one of the five people for someone else.
I realized that I was that person who, at times, parents didn’t want their kids spending time with.
I realized that the lives of my wife and kids are profoundly influenced by my actions, by my words, by my associations, and by my life; just as my life is by theirs.
I also realized that since we spend much of our time working, the lives of my coworkers are profoundly influenced by these same things; and my coworkers have a profound influence on my life.
Now, I think deep down I knew this at a much earlier time in my life. This was just the time that it really started to stick on a personal level. I really found the meaning of taking responsibility for my failures and how doing so was making me more successful. I really started to consciously live a better life by being a better influence on others, and I think it changed my life.
I embraced the idea that if I’m one of these five people for someone else, the essence of Jim Rohn’s quote is that I must strive to better myself so I can better others. Whether at home or work or anywhere else we spend time, personal development is the key to success. That’s because the better we are, the better we make others.
So, don’t change your friends, change yourself. Be the one who raises the bar on the law of averages, and you’ll change the world around you.