Why I Pick My Friends The Way I Pick My Vacation Spots

by Dennis Chen

They say that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Let that sink in for a moment. Who are those five people? Siblings? Stoner roommates? Sorority sisters? Favorite TV characters?

Birds of the Same Feather

It is human tendency to gravitate toward individuals who have similar qualities to us. Birds of the same feather flock together. But that’s nothing new.

We hang out with others who share similar interests — they’re just fun to be around. So what?

Well, it turns out that the selection of these people does matter. People are like places; if you spend enough time somewhere, you begin to assimilate. Like the common cold or popular lingo, habits and personalities are contagious. The habits and attitudes of the people with whom we surround ourselves directly influence us — whether or not we are conscious of it.

I once had a college roommate who had a habit of doing everything at the last minute. I don’t mean last-minute-cramming-type of last minute — that’s quite common. I mean last-possible-second last minute. This guy was a master of procrastination. I once overheard him on the phone, asking his mom to transfer funds into his banking account… as he stood in the checkout line at the student bookstore. Needless to say, he overdrafted his bank account that month, and since I absorbed some of his procrastinator tendencies, we both nearly failed our history class that quarter.

Who we spend our time with truly does influence the habits we form and the decisions we make.

After graduating from college, it became a lot more difficult to make new friends. I went from having hundreds of friends from my affiliations to only having a handful of real friends. Full-time jobs coerce people into realizing how valuable their time is, and as a result, people become more selective of their company.

At this point in my life, I was working my ass off trying to break into an extremely competitive industry that requires a lot of hours and minimal pay. I simply did not have the time or money to date or party all the time anymore. And I don’t mean that in some sort of self-righteous, “I’m doing me #singlelife” type of way. I genuinely couldn’t afford it and it was of little interest to me.

I couldn’t afford to keep up with my friends from college who spent all their time at dive bars and browsing OkCupid. We’re still friends, but we just had different preferences about how we wanted to spend our time during that particular point in our lives.

I spent less money on clothes and my appearance and more money on software classes and seminars. If I did go out for drinks, it was for the networking, which was always awkward and rarely fun. Eventually, I met a couple of the other recent graduates who were also regulars at networking mixers. These men and women were slick, career-oriented smooth talkers who knew what they wanted.

They were all better than I was at something I was desperately seeking improvement.

Being around them made me feel unaccomplished and lacking. I wanted so badly to catch up to them. Perhaps it is because I am a little bit competitive, but within months of hanging out with them, my answer to, “So what’d you do this morning?” changed from “woke up at noon and went shopping,” to “went on a run, practiced coding and cooked brunch.”

I don’t mean to elevate career-obsessed individuals over any other people — each person has his or her own set priorities and goals. What I mean to say is that if we want to build our weaknesses into strengths, we must surround ourselves with individuals who excel at those things.

I was not using these people — they were all genuinely my friends. I just allocated my time with each person based on the types of influences I needed at the time.

Diversity is key.

My gym-rat friend motivates me to get off my ass and to quit making excuses. The struggling actor reminds me that if I want to work in a creative industry, I have to constantly sacrifice and work diligently — achieving dreams doesn’t come easy.

The investor always shares tips and tricks on professional networking and personal presentation with me.

The tech guru keeps me up to date with the latest apps and social media trends.

Then of course, we all have a couple of crazy live-like-we’re-dying friends, who ensure we have the best Friday nights out on the town.

From friends who grew up on the streets hustling, to friends who have master’s degrees, you should always try to keep a diverse group of friends around you.

You already know this. A large proportion of us have interned without pay. Why? To capitalize on the opportunity to be around professionals in the field we are studying, in hopes that their skills will rub off on us. Why limit this approach to only our careers?  Why not allocate it to life in general?

Don't get too comfortable.

Friendships are great. Lasting ones are even better. But remember, as we grow as individuals, so should those with whom we choose to surround ourselves. This means not getting too comfortable. If we want to grow as individuals, we must opt to step out of our comfort zones and surround ourselves with individuals who challenge us. And yes, that means surrendering a certain amount of comfort, and taking the time to adjust to new surroundings. Why?

Well, because people are like places. The more you travel, the more perspective you can offer. The more perspective you have, the better your chances are at channeling the right attitude to overcome your weaknesses.

So, where would you like to travel next?

Photo credit: Theo Gosselin