I recently heard a story about someone’s grandfather. He came to the US as a young man. He had a good command of the English and led a happy, successful life, but some American sayings were lost in translation. Finally, at 96 years old, he called his youngest grandson over. “Leonard, you have a Ph.D in English. You have mastered it, and I am very proud of you,” he said. His grandson smiled and thanked him. The grandfather continued, “So maybe you could please tell me what it means, ‘To have your cake and eat it, too?’”Some people feel like that grandfather when they hear Jim Rohn’s quote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The gist is clear enough: The relationships you engage in influence you positively or negatively. But the word “average” is problematic. How does their effect on you magically average out? Am I not ultimately in control of who I am?What he’s really talking about is about is social influence. Humans are very social creatures. By default, there’s nothing more addictive to us than approval and nothing more painful than social rejection from people important to us. We gravitate to approval and avoid the pain of rejection. Like a houseplant reaching for the light, we can find ourselves twisted in unpleasant shapes if we don’t have a healthy set of influences.At first blush, it might seem like the solution is to have only positive, agreeable people around, and since that’s easier said than done, this saying is useless. But it’s not as simple as that. Some of the most negative relationships in our lives help us develop the necessary mental toughness to persevere through adversity. Throughout life, challenging relationships spur change. Sometimes the forward motion needed for transformation comes from adapting to the demands of a worthwhile but challenging relationship.At the heart of it all, you may not literally be the “average” of the people in your life, but your relationships are what shape our development. Who you are is still up to you. You take responsibility while still acknowledging the influence of others by understanding how you choose to act in response to their influence and why.You can improve your development by assessing these influences and identifying the nature of your relationships. Are they: constructively nurturing and supportive of your growth? Good for you, but challenging? Bad for you, but comforting? Practically useful, but personally harmful?Taking inventory of the relationships in your life and their influence is a great exercise that will help you gain a new appreciation for the power of relationships, and help you make that power a positive force in your life.You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you can make sure your relationships are consistent with your efforts to have the best life you can. Here’s to that.Cheers, Dave
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