“A man is known by the company he keeps.” – Coverdale, 1541
A proverb with roots that go back to ancient Egypt, this bit of wisdom takes on a new face and new life in the 21st century. You see, in decades, centuries, and millennia past, you were more or less confined to your class. Born into a lower caste? Born into a blue collar household? You were pretty much guaranteed to stay there for the rest of your life.
In the past, you were known by the company you kept, and in turn influenced by them. Their views of the world, the views of your family, friends, and associates were largely the same, and those set artificial restrictions on what you believed to be possible. Your station in life was more or less hardcoded and immutable. We never ascended to our potential because we were forced by strict boundaries in society to never see, hear, or do anything other than what people of our class and caste were allowed to do.
The disruptive power of the Internet and new media means that barriers previously built to keep classes separated are falling faster than imaginable. Start chatting with someone during an indie musician’s uStream concert and you may find you’re talking to a senior executive at a marketing firm or a kid in his mother’s basement. You may find that when you log into World of Warcraft you’re talking to people who are database engineers, forklift operators, or company presidents.
In the present, because access to people of all walks of life is so much greater, you have profoundly different choices. Instead of associating with people of similar backgrounds and perspectives by forced circumstance, you can choose whoever you want to associate with.
With unlimited choice of who we communicate with in networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a myriad of other choices, we can choose which viewpoints we want to continually receive as input into our lives. We can surround ourselves with naysayers and anklebiters and sure enough, we will fail to achieve, and bitterly so. We can surround ourselves with powerful results generating teachers and supportive friends and sure enough, we will achieve beyond any dreams we might have had.
Approach your social networks strategically. Look for people who are achieving the kind of results that you want to see in your own life, and reach out to them. Ask if they mentor casually (“would it be okay if I asked you a question or two every now and then?”), and even if they don’t, follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, learn as much as you can from observation about the habits and abilities that make them successful. If they speak publicly, go listen. If they have a book, go read it. Model as much of your own habits and skills on what you can perceive from their successes.
Ask them intelligent questions. Not, “how did you become so successful?”, because that’s a surprisingly stupid question. Look at your own successes in progress and where your roadblocks are and ask them for advice about overcoming a specific roadblock that you think they might have had to overcome in their own journeys.
Reach out and do this as much as time and energy permits, because the more people who are achieving the results that you want that you can invite into your life, the more your own viewpoints about the world and beliefs will change. Your mental boundaries about what’s possible and achievable will flex and grow from the constant successes of those around you.
No, you don’t have to cut off ties to everyone you currently know. That’s crass and foolish. Instead, by inviting more success into your life, your own habits and personality will shift over time. Some folks may stay. Some may go, naturally and of their own accord. That’s okay. Ideally, those around you currently will be so energized and inspired by your pending successes that your achievements will spur them to create a little magic of their own.
There’s a three part creed of accomplishment recited in my martial tradition that applies just as much to overall success in life:
I believe in myself. I am confident. I can accomplish my goals.
I believe in what I study. I am disciplined. I am ready to learn and advance.
I believe in my teachers. I show respect to all who help me progress.
That last part is the key that so many people lack, and shouldn’t in this age of hyper-connectedness, when you can reach out and have real conversations with incredibly successful people in 140 characters or a blog post.
Take a fresh new look at your social networks. Take a fresh new look at your own life, the life that you want, and who is already getting the results you want, and go learn their secrets!
We become the company we keep.
We achieve what we believe.
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