“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
Have you ever heard this sentiment before? Do you agree with it?
We are individuals, but what/who we choose to surround ourselves with has a dramatic impact on our mindset, the perspective that we view the world with, and ultimately on our actions. It’s more than just having a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full approach to life, there are real physical, emotional, and psychological residual effects that are attributed to our mood. And our mood, many times, is impacted/expected based on the people/environment that we surround ourselves with.
Impacted: When we spend time with people their attitudes and activities rub off on us. In this way we are impacted by their overall demeanor/lifestyle. As an interesting example of this, have you ever spent time in a different part of the country, or abroad? We quickly notice that there are different accents even when two people are from the same country, and are speaking the same language. We can often distinguish which region of the country a person hails from based on the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in their speech. When people with different accents spend time together eventually their speech, and the slang terminology that they use, starts to mirror one another. It often isn’t anything that happens intentionally, but it does illustrate the point — people rub off on one another just by being around each other. Likewise, our own attitude and activities rub off on those who we come in contact with. Keep that in mind.
Expected: Certain people or groups are expected to act a certain way. When I say, “Pastor”, you likely form in your mind an overall perception about how a person that fits into that group is expected to act. Likewise, if I say that a student is in “after school detention”, again we likely form a generalized perception of how we would expect that student to act, and possibly even look. This expectation factor is more powerful than we sometimes give it credit for. In many cases, we equate a significant portion of our self-identity to expectations, both that we have of ourselves as well as what we believe others expect from us.
This concept of expectation can work in a positive dynamic, such as when we are about to act out of anger, or are tempted to do something that would go against our morals/values, but then we remember that (for example) as Christians we are expected (by God, and by others within our faith community) to act in a certain manner.
Expectations are essential in relationships, particularly relationships that have established a strong level of trust between the parties involved. EXAMPLE: The player who gets suspended from the team asks if the coach is mad at him. The coach replies, “I’m not mad at you, but I am disappointed.” Having let down someone that we care about is a gut-wrenching feeling. Hopefully that feeling serves as a strong motivator to inspire us, and to keep us in line to meet the expectations moving forward. Of course, for this example to be meaningful, the coach must have lived up to certain expectations that his players have for him as well, or else the relationship between the coach/athlete will not be strong enough for the consequences of failing to meet the expectations to matter. If the athlete doesn’t have respect for the coach, then he wont care if the coach is disappointed in him. It is one of those chicken vs. egg type of dynamics, and serves as a living example of the statement, “in order to get respect you must give respect”.
This expectation dynamic can also work in a negative manner. Have you ever seen the tv show, “Freaks and Geeks”? In the show the main character, Lindsay, trades in her studious friends and habits (including her top position as a “Mathlete”) to instead hang with a group of friends who are involved with smoking pot, ditching class, and other related “slacker” behaviors. Excelling in the classroom, staying away from drugs, and having a respected reputation are all generally considered positive things. But, for Lindsay’s new group of friends, these things did not fit into their expectations for themselves. Their behaviors were quite likely also fueled/reinforced by the expectations that others had for them. For example, the school Counselor would often tell Lindsay that he was worried about her because of the type of crowd that she was hanging around. Her parents, old friends, and teachers all echoed the same thoughts to her as well.
This is scary and sad. To think, so many people don’t believe in themselves partly because others have never shown belief in them. Instead, others have demonstrated that they expect this person to fail, to be worthless, and to never advance beyond that point. We know about this dynamic too, and have possibly heard teachers or others say that, “it’s when I stop giving you a hard time that you know I have given up on you”. What does that say to the kids who we are not “giving a hard time”, who we are ignoring because they are “lost causes”? We should instead strive to show some faith in everybody that we cross paths with. When we take the time to show them what we expect them to do/be, and what we believe they are capable of, often we are going to be pleasantly surprised by the things that they achieve. And, more importantly, they will be surprised by what they can do too, and start to build confidence in themselves. See, it is easy to live down to expectations, and some people get comfortable in that rut. On the flip side, when someone expects a lot out of us those high expectations can be uncomfortable. But, they can also be motivating, as long as the person is someone we trust and respect. Ultimately, true/lasting motivation comes from within - not from some external factor, such as someone else’s expectations. But, there is a lot of latitude between reality and ultimately, and we must try to provide that external motivation for others when the opportunity presents itself.
Back to the example of Lindsay in “Freaks and Geeks” (as seen in the image above, surrounded by her new group of friends). Without getting into too much of the deeper layers of human behavior and expectations, essentially, Lindsay’s Counselor, teachers, and parents were expressing concern for her based on the face value that they were seeing in her new friends. And, while I believe that no one is a completely lost cause, it is an important lesson that we must be mindful of as we determine who to surround ourselves with in the precious time that we have.
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ ”
(1 Corinthians 15:33)
This is not to say that one group of people are better than another, God has blessed our earth with an interesting array of people. We look different, we have different interests and talents. Diversity is neat. It is valuable to interact with people who are different from ourselves, and there is a great deal that we can learn from one another. However, the point of this article isn’t about the benefits of diversity, but rather when we are aspiring to achieve/be something specific (I want to be a doctor, or I am a Christian, or I want to move to Italy), then how important it becomes to immerse ourselves in things that support that focus. We want to be that, so we must become that. We want others around us to inspire us, educate us, lift us up with them — and in return we want to be around others who we can have that same positive impact on. We want to stay sharp, and be able to help those around us do the same.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
If a student aspires to become a doctor, it naturally would make sense for that person to read books on the subject, watch movies that relate to their focus, and interact with others who are on the same path or who have experienced that profession for themselves. These sorts of activities will help the person aspiring to become a doctor to better understand what it is they are aspiring towards, and ultimately help them to get there. From a professional standpoint it wouldn’t make much sense for the aspiring doctor to spend time with an artist (for example). Talking about painting, reading books about painting technique, and attending lectures on the subject may be of interest to the aspiring doctor, but they probably will not help him/her in the pursuit of their goal.
Now, from a non-professional standpoint, it absolutely is refreshing and beneficial to interact with a wide variety of individuals. Likewise, there is also a benefit to exchanging ideas/best practices with others in professional fields other than our own. This helps us look at topics from different angles, and also helps us to spot potential biases/blind spots that we otherwise may not recognize on our own. In addition to enjoying our interactions with these people, it is also a valuable experience that enriches our own personal growth. But, again, this may not be the best surroundings for someone who is focused on becoming a doctor. We are reminded that where we spend our time and focus will shape who/what we put our heart into, and ultimately what we will become.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
In my own life, I remember a few years ago when I started listening to a Christian radio station every day on my morning commute to work. That solitary time in my car, spent listening to the positive messages found in the songs and commentary, put me in an excellent mindset/demeanor which subsequently prepared me to face whatever the day ahead had in store, firmly grounded in the values/priorities that I wanted to live by and represent. I was surrounding myself with that positivity, which in turn motivated/inspired/prepared me to act that way myself. By surrounding myself with that mindset, I felt that I was walking with the wise, and ready to walk that walk throughout my day.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
Be the person you want to be, no matter who you are spending your time with. If those around you respond well to the real you, then they are worth spending more time with. Conversely, if you feel weighed down by someone when you are around them, those are the people that you should have a conversation with about the direction that you are heading and find out if they are willing to support you in that, or if they want to hold you back (often times with themselves).
You will know what to do. Pray about it. Be mindful about your interactions with others, and how you feel when you are around the people that you are currently spending your time with. As the Sara Bareilles song states, “Say what you want to say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.” We must recognize that our way is not necessarily better than someone else's, but that in our life our way is what is best for us as we look to stay focused on sticking to our path. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to stop spending time with those who we have differences with altogether. It simply means that there is value in understanding how your path differs from their path, and then being mindful/strategic about the times when your paths will intercept.
But before we go out into the world with a laser focus solely zoned in on our own agenda, allow me to offer one important final piece of advice; do not be selfish. “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” (Luke 11:33)
Search for the lights out there that can help you on your journey, and be a bright light yourself while illuminating the path for others.
Coach Shane is a disciple of Jesus Christ, a husband, a father, and an entrepreneur. He is an International Coach Federation (ICF) trained life coach and graduate of the Certified Professional Life Coach (CPLC) program from the Christian Coach Institute. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree (BA) and Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA).
Coach Shane has a heart for helping men, families, and young adults in their earthly walks as they continue to grow and develop into the family, church, business, and community leaders that God is calling them to become. He does not teach about the Bible or religion as a trained Pastor or theologian would, but rather relates Christian principles to the everyday walk of earthly life, doing so from a layman’s perspective. Applying a Christian perspective to real life. For more information visit Coach Shane’s website: ShaneHansenCLC.com
PHONE: (920) 428-1564
FACEBOOK: Shane Hansen, Christian Life Coach, LLC