How many people do you know? The answer is probably many. But how many of those would you consider yourself to have a close and meaningful relationship with? Statistically that answer is likely fewer than five, enough to count on one hand. Now for the important question: what is the impact of those associations on your life?
You’ve likely heard the phrase “Birds of a feather flock together.” This concept mirrors what professional development experts refer to as “The Power of Association.” The idea is that not only will individuals gravitate towards individuals who share similar interests and attitudes, but also that those interests and attitudes will be amplified when around others of the same traits. Over time this can result in significant changes in our lives, and we should therefore be aware of this phenomenon.
Let’s use golf as an example. Imagine that you are playing with a group, and that you are the weakest player in the group. This Is actually a very good thing. The reason is that due to the Power of Association, your skill level will improve while playing with this stronger group. You will be forced to focus more and perform harder in order to compete, and the others in the group will also be inclined to help you by providing tips and technique ideas. As long as you are open to the environment you are in, their skills and expertise will naturally transfer to you, making you a better player in the process. As leadership expert Darren Hardy states, “To keep growing, you have to keep associating with those who are greater than you.” To be a better golfer, associate and play with those who are better than you.
Now think of the inverse of this scenario. If you are by far the best golfer in a group, how well are you going to perform? When you don’t have to try that hard to win, your natural tendency will be to not play at your maximum level because you don’t have to (remember: we humans are naturally lazy). If you continue to play most of your golf games with this same group, your technique could start to suffer because there is nothing forcing you to develop and grow yourself, and decay happens naturally in the absence of purposeful growth. Quoting John Maxwell, “if you are always at the head of the class, you are in the wrong class.” This is why LeBron James, as just one example, purposefully chose to attend a high school whose basketball program and fellow players surpassed those of other schools. To keep growing, he understood the need to be around those who made him better, and look at the result.
While these have been sports examples, the same is true in the business and professional worlds. Who is going to improve your skills as a lawyer? A lawyer with one of the top firms in the country, or the local “cheap” lawyer who fails half their cases? This is why competition is always so fierce for internships or fellowships with individuals who are highly respected in their fields. To become the best, you must learn from the best.
The same principle holds true in the social and personal world. Robb Thompson, in his book 10 Critical Laws of Relationships, advises people to avoid individuals who “feed your offenses, your excesses, and your flaws.” Think of it in terms of peer pressure: do these individuals raise you up and bring out the best in you, or do they drag you down into bad decision making? Successful individuals associate with those who raise up others, who are positive and raise morale, and are moving in the same life direction as them. These individuals will naturally cause you to improve yourself. This works both ways, however. Association with negative or skeptical individuals who possess bad habits will bring you down, causing you to begin to develop the same negative traits. This is why it is important to think about who you allow into your “inner circle.”
As Jim Rohn famously stated, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So ask yourself: Where you are right now, is that a good claim or a bad claim?
Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications. He is also
a partner at Appalachian Digital, a local web development agency, and a founding partner of
MHQC LLC Real Estate Development. He and his wife Erin are natives of Kingsport, TN.