They say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
I’ve seen this proved out in my own life. It’s true.
In the interest of your success, here are the 4 people you should be sure to have in your life — plus the toxic 5th that most of us have, but don’t want or need.
#1. A True Believer
Don’t stop believin’
You need someone in your life who believes in you, unequivocally, unreservedly, and unabashedly.
This is the person who will say to you, “You can do it. Go for it.”
They aren’t shy about looking into your eyes and saying, “I believe in you.”
As a personal coach, I often fill this role in people’s lives, even if it’s only for the short while it takes for our work together to help them identify the Believer that can hang around them constantly and not charge them money.
This could even be your Mom (if she’s cool enough for you to hang out with all the time). It doesn’t matter who it is. What’s important is that the truly believe in you.
I bring you the gift of these four words . . . I believe in you.
#2. A Confidant
This is your sounding board. They listen well. They are clear and ego-less in their dealings with you; they know that a great gift they provide is their ability to listen, non-judgmentally, and accept you fully as you are.
They also get you. They’ll often say to you: “I understand.”
They won’t try to fix you or give advice or prescribe solutions. You won’t hear them say, “Well, I think you should. . . ” because they know that you know the answers to your problems, and your best thinking is elicited by attentive listening.
I often play this role as well in my Coaching work. Because I am an objective third-party (and a total stranger) people find it easy to open up to me.
(Actually, almost all strangers I’ve just met find it easy to open up to me, but that’s another story.)
Being a trained listener makes it easy to be a Confidant. Because very few people are trained listeners, it’s often hard to find a good Confidant . . . even harder than it is to find a True Believer. That makes it all the more important to nurture that relationship when you do find it.
Who’s your Confidant?
#3. A Way-Shower
This person gives you proof that success is possible.
They’re often called role models because they’ve already done what you want to do, or become who you aspire to become. Their life is an example to all who observe them.
These people, often very successful & sought-after, are nonetheless going out of their way to be accessible, and pull back the curtains on their success.
They say, “You can do it, too; let me show you how.” They have nothing to hide, and they don’t “pull the ladder up” on those following in their footsteps. (Folks who do that are sick with scarcity-mentality, and not true way-showers.)
There are a ton of Way-Showers out there, and it’s generally easy to find them, because they’re often in highly visible, highly successful positions, often in the public eye.
These are the folks who can inspire even from a distance. You should send them emails or letters letting them know how they inspire you, and ask them for the secret of their success.
Some of the way-showers in my life are Jay-Z, Eminem, Buckminster Fuller, Benjamin Franklin, & Elon Musk. In addition, I hope to be a way shower to my audience in certain areas of life.
#4. A Messenger
A messenger deliver valuable information: it can be a referral, a job lead, an idea, or something else that provides you with valuable forward momentum.
Often your best messengers are your weakest ties. They’re 3rd-degree connections on LinkedIn, or a friend of a friend of a colleague, or your cousin in San Francisco who you never see (hi, Lisa!)
These people say, “I can help” or “How can I help?” They are genuinely interested in helping others who reach out to them because they understand the power of generosity, and the power of weak ties.
Ironically, it’s often these messengers & weak ties who will be more fruitful when you need something than your Confidants or your close friends or Believers.
So develop the practice of asking them first.
Bonus Person #5:
The Naysayer, Doubter, Hater, General Disbeliever, Shit-Talker, Mr. or Mrs. “Realism”
Don’t let the haters stop you from doin’ your thang.
Kevin Gnapoor, Mean Girls
It’s like clockwork: every time we embark on a serious course of self-improvement or decide we’re going to launch after our dreams, it seems like 90% of the people we know become Person Type #5: haters & doubters.
They even frame their doubting as “concern” for us or “just wanting what’s best.”
They say things like, “You know most businesses fail, right?” and “I just want you to be realistic,” and “You should work for a nice company with health insurance” and my favorite, “You have to be practical.”
(As if practicality was some sort of universal good!)
It’s an acquired skill to shut these people down in a loving way. Here are some of my favorites:
- “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and I know it comes from a good place, but it’s actually not helpful, so let’s talk about something else.”
- “Hey, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I’m really looking for people to be supportive of my efforts these days. Can you do that for me?”
- “I disagree.” (then change the subject)
- “I appreciate your concern.” (then change the subject)
- “I’m going to be just fine. Better than fine, actually.”
- (if you want to be snarky) “How’s your 401K doing?”
- (if you want to be snarky) “I’ll be alright. Let’s talk about your work now. How’s your boss these days?”
It’s also your option to limit time spent with these doubters for the duration of your self-improvement course, or until their behavior shapes up.
I realize this could be the rest of your life, but that’s just the wages of being great: you risk losing some friends along the way. (That’s okay, because it makes room for more people who support & love you unconditionally.)
There you have it — the four people you simply must have in your life, plus the toxic 5th you need to fire.
Exercise time. Go get a sheet of paper right now, and make 5 columns on it.
Write the roles from above in each column and below, write at least one name that occurs to you in each column.
Then, ask yourself:
- Which list is longest? Shortest? What does that tell you?
- Any names you’d like to add?
- How do the naysayers affect you?
- What would you like to do about the naysayers?
- What could you do to add more names to the list in the right categories?
If you have blank columns, make a plan to go meet some people who could fill that role for you, this week.
I suggest that you put this list in a prominent location (your desk at work, the place you do most of your work, the place you reflect) and begin a practice of reaching out to a name on the list each and every week — this will strengthen your supportive community ties both immediately, and over the long term. It’s a great habit to get into.
I’m grateful for the book Overcoming Underearning for a version of this exercise and I highly recommend it to everyone.
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Also published on Medium.