55 things I learned in 55 years: You are your associates

This is number seven. You can find 1, 2 & 3 here and 4-6 here.

“I went to a strip club once. I looked around and thought, ‘All of these guys are complete losers.’ Then I asked myself what was I doing here. I must be a loser, too. I got up and left and I’ve never been in one since.”

This is a little more interesting take on the “You are the average of your five closest friends” meme that has been going around these days. (I am still puzzled by whatever motivated my extremely conservative friend to ever go to a strip club in the first place.) While Buford Taylor’s post was on software engineering, the same applies to life in general. Here are a few examples I have observed how my life has gotten SO much better since I quit associating with people that I frankly did not think were good people.

Honesty. I have heard too many times, “It’s just business.” If you work with people who bend the truth, cut corners and look the other way, eventually, you start to feel that is normal. When you find yourself in that situation, get out as soon as you can. Trust me on this one. Of my five closest friends, four are scrupulously honest, as in, wouldn’t tell a lie if they were under torture. The fifth – well, he might tell you he scored the winning run in the high school state championships when he was actually on the bench, but as far as anything that ever mattered, he is batting 1,000.

Courage. All of my friends have courage in spades. I have friends who were in the Marines, fire department and law enforcement. I also have a couple who have never faced anything more life-threatening than a computer virus. Courage is not just running into a burning building or standing in the line of fire. It is also standing up in a meeting when everyone else has agreed to a plan of action that you think is wrong and saying, “No.” It’s being able to withstand a storm of public criticism, ridicule and possible lawsuits to stand up for what you believe is right.

Intelligence. I don’t have any dumb friends. Everyone I know is smarter than me about some things and I ask their advice often. When I’m with my friends, I’m never the smartest person in the room. That’s a good thing. Both The Rocket Scientist and I are convinced we married someone smarter than ourselves and got a good deal.

Reliability. If you met my closest friends, you might think they are quite different. Some people, like me, work all of the time. Others might have a lot of days when they completely screw off but then pull all-nighters. Some get up at 5 a.m. and some, like me, only see 5 a.m. on their way ┬áto bed. A couple of my friends don’t do a minute more work than they absolutely must and the others live for their work. None of them have ever missed a deadline.

One of the nicest things anyone ever said about me (it’s been a few years so excuse me if it isn’t exact) was when a friend of mine was defending me to someone who had criticized some position I’d taken,

“Look, the difference between you and AnnMaria is that if she agrees to meet you April 23rd, 2015 in front of the Eiffel Tower, when that day comes around, she’ll be there and you won’t!”

I’ve learned over the years that most people, when they say they will do something, mean that they will do it if the roads aren’t too bad, or they don’t get a better offer or they just don’t feel like it that day. Then there are people who when they say they will do something, will simply do it.

This is a super-important lesson and it took me a long time to learn it. You ARE the people you associate with. Don’t buy that line that you need to associate with unethical or incompetent people because you need a job, it’s only business, they coach your kids, you want to win – whatever excuse you have, it’s not worth it. As Carly Fiorina said,

“Once you sell your soul, no one can buy it back for you.”

If you are unhappy with your job, your friends, your love life, think about this – what are the non-negotiable qualities for the people around you? If your friends are people who are athletic, attractive, successful and funny, is that what you want? Before you say, “Yes, who wouldn’t want that?” take a look at the qualities I just listed and think again.

A couple of years ago, I made the comment to someone that I have better friends than I deserve. He responded

“I don’t think that’s possible. I think it’s an oxymoron. I believe people get exactly the friends they deserve.”

I sure hope he is right and I advise you to act as if he is.

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