What are you the average of?

2 February 2018
2 Feb 2018
West Lafayette, IN
3 mins

I don’t tend to believe in career-focused platitudes, but if there’s just one that I would tell anyone that asked, it would be this:

You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time working together.

Tell me with whom you spend the most of your time working together, and I’ll tell you what you enjoy working on, what you’d want to do in the future, and how you might go about doing it.

There’s several forces at work here to create a human equilibrium of sorts. 1) We tend to want to blend in with the crowd of people that surrounds us, 2) we tend to imitate, unconsciously, the people we see most often, to be more like them, and 3) the people with whom we spend the most time shape the way we look at and hear about the rest of the world.

For example, if you’re like me and spend most of your time with campus organizations focused on student startups and businesses, you yourself probably have a passion for turning ideas into solutions, because that’s a lot of what you listne to and talk about day-to-day, and everyone around you would happen to be working on similar ideas,

In both the professinoal and casual parts of our lives, who we spend time with, in meatspace and in cyberspace, influences who we are at each moment, and who we are led to become — the average of those that surround us.

And it turns out we can use this to our advantage. Instead of looking at our friends and working out who we might be today, we can ask, “Whom do you want to be the average of?” and work backwards to how to get there.

Especially as a college student, options are everywhere, in student orgs, in clubs, in independent companies and groups, fraternities and sororities, and in professional networks. You don’t have to make a drastic change, or shift your entire lifestyle. But join a study group or attend monthly events. Do some Facebook-searching. Find the people and groups whose average looks like what you want to do, and who you want to be. And then put yourseif in the middle of that equation. Or, inversely, be more conscious of the people that you spend time with the most, against the kind of “average” you want to tend towards.

There is a great post by Paul Graham on a related idea, where he talks about the “message” that a city or place of living projects to its residents, and how that influences, as a company of people do, the residents to live and dream and have ambitions in a certain direction. I think these two — influence from place and influence from the people-atmosphere, are very closely linked. And being aware of how these forces unknowingly push and pull on our future paths goes a long way.

So, who are you the average of? Where are those people, and how can you find yourself in the right atmosphere, that pushes you along in the direction you want to move, by virtue of being together?

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