I find lesson 2 to be pretty mind bendy. Simple in content, but complex in execution. It remains a constant part of my conversations with myself, and it is undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of self-awareness for me.
Humans are virtuous. Humans are infectious. Who was it that said, ‘Show me your friends and I will show you your destiny?’ My google search shows so many versions of this proverb, attributed to countless people across the ages. This is because of all the truisms to descend on us, this could easily be among the most important and fundamental truths from which we cannot escape.
Jim Rohn says it a bit more directly, ‘You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ And that is the essence of lesson two. Be discerning about the company you keep. They will shape your character and your destiny without you even noticing. The company you keep becomes the loud hailer in your mind shouting out the thoughts that shape your experience of the world around you, and more importantly, it shapes the experiences that you live within you.
Growing up, my parents were ruthless in their oversight of the company I kept. I, on the other hand, was drawn to novelty. And nothing was more novel to me than people who did not fit the mold prescribed to me.
I understand and I am infinitely grateful to my parents for the vigour with which they counselled me about my choice of companionship. And believe me, it was pretty non-stop! Undoubtedly, I avoided countless pitfalls and traps that so savagely consumed many of my peers. The choices in our youth have the power to direct the path of our lives and believe me when I say that I am grateful, I am flippin freaking GRATEFUL! There is difficulty, hardship and pain that I have no personal point of reference for simply because of this role my parents so dutifully performed in my youth.
There is a thin line though. And it is this thin line that keeps me preoccupied, especially now that I find myself a parent to two teenagers. How do you practice discernment about the company you keep without succumbing to prejudice and without reliving the biases of your forefathers and your ilk? How do you grow? How do you expand? How do you discover yourself? How do you leave the shores of your present reality and adventure through the countless realities that can reveal potentials within you that you could not otherwise learn?
All of these inevitably subject you to risk; to falling in with the ‘wrong’ crowd. It risks embarking on a path that can mercilessly wound you physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And irrevocably.
I realise that now, in my 48th year, I am at no less at risk of ‘inappropriate’ company than I had been in my teen years. I am no less drawn to novelty in humans. I still feel the strongest surges of life pulsing through me when I meet people who are so impossibly different to me that I have to make significant shifts within myself in order to see the world through their eyes. I love few things more than to go on a magic carpet ride through the world wearing someone else’s lenses to what is. And then, I love nothing more than to return from this adventure to my own map of reality; to question my reality, my rules and my truths, and to see which I’d like to keep and to consider which I might want to tinker with or even toss out. And so, I grow … and am mislead.
Whatever your age, whatever your station, whatever your situation, people are virtuous, and people are infectious. In a single moment, the ‘right’ person with the ‘right’ message can take you from angst to ease and to courage. Similarly, the ‘wrong’ person can with the ‘wrong’ message can cause you to shrink from your potential and to deny your own light.
The truth is that sometimes you have control over who it is that your share your world with; and sometimes you don’t.
Another truth is that sometimes the ‘wrong’ person ushers you into your greatest awakenings.
Another truth is that being surrounded by too many people who fit your ’ideal’ mold may cause you atrophy.
Humans are virtuous and humans are infectious, and we need them. Lesson 1 teaches me that no quest worthy of pursuit can be accomplished without others. And so, in my deliberations of the thin line I discovered a few truths that have supported my discernment:
1. I am at choice. Always. The lid to my growth, my character, my destiny relies on me far more than it does on my surroundings and the people I travel with;
2. My ability to process BOTH the infectiousness AND the virtuousness of people are contingent on my growth and the mastery I have of myself; of my thoughts, my beliefs, my perspectives and my ability to stand in my own choicefulness and personal accountability.
3. I can lead myself wherever and with whomever I find myself. It is my responsibility to make clear choices about who I want to be and what I would like to achieve. This is true in both the macro and micro contexts of my life.
4. My instruments for leading myself are my responsibility. As I navigate through life, it is my responsibility to keep an eye on the dashboard of my values, my contribution, the content of my character, my direction and the quality of the life I am experiencing.
5. People, in truth are neither virtuous, not infectious. They are merely triggers that alert me to what sits well with me and what does not. Where there is discomfort, it is my job to unravel it and to make the necessary adjustments. More often than not this involves forgiveness of myself, releasing my own shame, self-acceptance, self-compassion and replacing judgment with love and kindness. It might also just involves laughing at myself or the situation in question.
6. Do not judge a book by its cover. [This challenges the crap out of me] People are dynamic and complex, and our judgements are reductive and lazy. People are simply doing the best they can with what they have, and how they see themselves and their situations. Not understanding them or agreeing with them is no reason to judge them or to diminish them. At some level all judgement is a judgment of self, or a fear disguising itself as an accusation. Instead, look upon them with fascination and curiosity. Again, this is insanely challenging to do, especially in a triggered moment, but I’ve learnt the most extraordinary life lessons in the most unexpected ways from people I may have otherwise dismissed because of the stereotypes or perspectives I have subscribed to.
7. Again, it is critical to me that I decide who I want to be. Not simply what I want to achieve. Knowing who I want to be helps me to achieve my goals in a way that keeps me aligned and intact. With the knowledge of who I want to be I can actively seek out and sample the company of those who can guide you to the next iteration of myself. Who I want to be is not a once-and-done kind of thing. Depending on the complexities of one’s life, it can be a moment-to-moment kind of thing.
8. I have permission to move through relationships with people freely. I can extract value from relationships, and I can add value. I can do either, or I can determine when the time has arrived to do neither. I am free to separate myself from relationships. This freedom is contingent on my ability to endure discomfort. Again, I am at choice.
9. Not everyone is or needs to be my Bestie. Different relationships serve different purposes. There is nothing wrong with moving on from relationships, just like there is nothing wrong with keeping people at arm’s length. There is only something wrong when there is something unclear and unresolved within you. The source of an uncomfortable attachment is a source of growth.
10. We live in a world of willing guides, teachers, mentors and advisors. Seek out the people who can lead you to you next growth. It can be daunting, and it can demand that we move past some of our self-limiting inner chatter. It is critical that we seek them out anyway so that we can learn how to lift our lids higher and so that we are able to live larger.
When you’re young, you may need external help to navigate your relationships and the influence people have over you. As you make your way into adulthood, it becomes your responsibility.
It’s not complicated, but it does require that you are deliberate. There really is no other way. In order to have beneficial, enriching relationships with the people around you, you have to first become clear on the relationship you have with yourself.