You are the Average of Your Friend Group
Moving back to Baton Rouge after having been away for most of four years has opened my eyes to the power of context within community. Context refers to space and environment in which your life is lived out. To illustrate, if two brothers decided to go to different schools - one to Liberty University and the other to UCLA, though they come from the same background, they're both students and they both are attending school, their context is quite different and it is highly plausible that they will return after graduation as vastly different people. The characters of a story shape the plot and the hero.
The renown businessman, Jim Rohn, once wisely pronounced that,
And it's no surprise. In whichever situation we might find ourselves, our natural survival instinct is to fit in so that we aren't shoved from the safety of the pack, so to speak. No doubt you've had friends who act one way around you and another around their other group of friends. Consequently, their birthday parties, in which two cultures of friends are invited, always pose an interesting dilemma, for now they must act two different ways in front of two different groups of people.
This idea of "fitting in" is the underlying premise for peer pressure which has a long track record of enticing people to do seemingly out-of-character things. It's not because who we are on the inside has changed, necessarily. It could be that we are simply caught up in the frenzy of fitting in and surviving. We have a longing to be accepted and liked by the people we are around and thus offer up whatever we believe they want from us so that we seem agreeable.
This is why it's so incredible important to make every effort to surround ourselves with the people who hold similar values and live similar lifestyles to what we want for ourselves. Where we find those people is so diverse - school, work, home, organizations etc. Because of the diversity of context, we must be intentional about finding those pockets of people who aren't just co-workers or pew-sharers but friends and family because their impact on our lives is greater than we might know.
The problem is that we often congregate around the people we already know for the sole reason that we are comfortable with them. We'll go to the same Church that we grew up in or work for a particular business because we know someone there who hooked us up with the job or we attend a particular university because most of our friends from highschool are going there. In each of these cases, we're limiting our options of putting ourselves in a context in which we can truly thrive. Finding such places requires intentional effort on our part. There's a little method that I use that almost makes it too easy.
1. Choose a person who you want to spend more time with
This is the person who shares your values, supports and loves you and has found success in their own life. I'm not referring to financial success or fame but success defined as, "Going to bed with a smile on your face." Someone who has found contentment, peace and joy in their quality of life. Try to find someone who lives a lifestyle or is working their way toward a lifestyle that you want to live yourself. If their values, character traits, practices and choices have led them to a place you eventually want to be, it would be pretty wonderful if they rubbed off on you.
2. Ask them about their Five
Talk to this person about who they spend the most time with (other than you, if that's the case). Perhaps it's their co-workers, their best friend or their family. Find out what it is about these people that inspires them and spurs them on in life and then get them to introduce you to two or three of them. Now you've got a "shoe in" through a mutual connection and can get to know your new acquaintances with a "wing man" at your side.
3. Repeat step 2 with your new friend
Pretty soon, after repeated this process a few times, you'll find that you have a group of new friends who - more than likely - share common values and lifestyles that you're looking to exemplify in your life. As a network, you all begin to spend time together and average out, each bringing their unique strengths and qualities to the group. I love this model because everyone wants to find people with whom they share dreams, beliefs and values. By absorbing the friend groups of the people you want to spend more time with, you'll likely find others like them and everyone wins.
For many people, you spend a majority of your time with co-workers which can make finding a new Five rather difficult. But if your co-workers are not who you want to be an average of, ask for a transfer, a promotion or put in your two weeks notice. Don't spend the majority of your life surrounded by people who will impact you negatively.
Final note: If you find people in your Five who are clearly a negative influence on you, don't cut them off. You're still their friend - reinforce that if they ever need you, you're a phone call away. Rather than disappearing from their life suddenly, simply begin removing yourself from those social circles gradually. Remember that we're talking about the five you spend time with most often, not your sole group of friends. Be sure that you are making time for relationships outside of these five. Jesus, though He kept his core group of friends to the 12 disciples, made time to be with and minister to the tax collector, the Samaritan woman and the Pharisees.