I don’t think you become the five people you surround yourself with most. At least not immediately. If anything we choose to surround ourselves with people who agree with the same values, norms, and beliefs that we do. The world of social circles is usually a self-constructed echo-chamber of sorts for many of us and outsiders with differing opinions are rarely welcomed in. That being said, the people you surround yourself with are most definitely a reflection of who you are. Additionally, we rise to the level of expectation that certain groups hold for themselves. I believe that strong groups create strong individuals.
In the business world they refer to certain areas as “status centers” places that select and churn out high-performers. In the military these high performers are usually created in front-line infantry and SOF units. Go into any industry or community of practice and ask people where the best individuals generally come from and they can name a few companies right off of the top of their head. I know why that is from anecdotal experience and from legitimate psychological study, but it warrants a deliberate breakdown.
When I moved to Pensacola, Florida I had a lot of time on my hands awaiting training as a Naval Aviator. Many young Marine Officers turn to alcohol and night life in that time period to enjoy their last bit of freedom before being surrounded by discussions of aerodynamics and weather. I partook in that a little, but due to the alcoholism that runs in my family, I focused more on developing myself physically. I ran into a group of guys at a gym called Crossfit Sidewinder who were training to compete in the Pensacola Beach Brawl the following year. I decided to join them.
The first day I worked out with them we were rowing 1000 meter intervals for time. I opened my pace up at a solid 1:35 min per 500 meter average, and then I settled into around 1:45 min per 500 meter pace. Derrick, my new found training partner told me there was no way I was going to be able to hold that pace. Derrick was unaware that I had a collegiate crew coach teaching me how to row at my previous gym and that I knew exactly what pace I could hold for a 1k. After smoking all of my new training partners and finding myself victorious in our first competitive endeavor together I felt quite smug and accomplished.
The following day we had back squats on the menu and though it was a weakness of mine, I surely could smoke these new workout partners who couldn’t hold a steady 1k row pace. Couldn’t I? Well no, actually Derrick could squat a house. He also was an impeccable runner. Eventually Derrick and I were in a similar position on the rower and while strength takes a long time to gain, I saw my 1 rep max back squat going up. One of our other partner’s Marcus (the gym owner, fellow podcaster, and future podcast guest) couldn’t run for shit, but no one dropped under the bar faster than he did when going for a one-rep max snatch. Again all of our snatch one rep maxes, increased. Why was this happening, was there something in the water at Crossfit Sidewinder? It is possible there was because to date that’s still the most fit I was for crossfit competitions in my entire life.
Albert Bandura encompasses this phenomena under his patented “Self-Efficacy” theory. To break it down without going directly into the theoretical side of things; It is a requirement for individuals attempting to complete a certain goal to be able to see the path to completion. Case in point, Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile record. Scientists told everyone that it was impossible for a human to do so. Roger Bannister proved them wrong by running a sub-four-minute mile. The most interesting part came after the fact. More people began breaking the four-minute mile mark. Up until that point everyone satisfied themselves with the belief that it wasn’t possible and failed to complete the task. Once Bannister showed them the way, multiple people followed and proving that Bannister was not an exception to the once believed theory that it was an impossible feat.
I personally believe that the same situation occurred with my workout partners in Pensacola. We all managed to see the path that the other was taking to improve upon their existing weakness. I could see that Derrick was getting better at rowing, and in turn it pushed me to get better at back squatting. After all if this guy was improving why coudln’t I? He was human. He didn’t have some super power. The same happened with Marcus as he helped my to reach a new 1 rep max snatch that I never thought was possible. I saw that an average individual who was very similar to me in athletic capability to achieve impressive gains and in turn made the same achievements.
I think one of the reasons that we need other individuals to show us a path is because we accept the limiting belief that our competitors are super-human. We grant them these super-powers that they don’t deserve out of an effort to excuse ourselves from achieving greatness. When you watch an individual snatch 300 lbs on a youtube video, we assume they’re some stellar athlete endowed with amazing talent. When really, that person is a human just as we are. They wake up every day, breath in the same air, put their pants on one leg at a time, and they have the same 24 hours in a day. They just choose to apply themselves differently than we do.
The Marine Corps showed me how to drop this limiting belief in one of the best ways possible. We often turn our enemies into the boogey man. We make them out to be a super powerful force capable of great feats. Rarely is that the case. Our nation’s founding is a great example of this. Everyone has a weakness and our military managed to exploit that weakness to defeat the greatest army from the greatest empire the world had ever seen. The enemy is not the boogey man. He is human. He has weaknesses just like you do, and I promise if you punch him in the throat it will hurt.
You have weaknesses but you also have strengths. The other people around you are not super-human they just have applied themselves in a specific area more than you have. Do not give them super powers that they don’t deserve. Surround yourself with people working toward goals, any goals, and making watching that process your own super power. Those people who tell you that something is impossible are generally unwilling to achieve great things themselves. Unless you are trying to become a dolphin. You most likely will never become a dolphin if you were not born as a dolphin.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.