When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood of thatched huts. my family was considered wealthy because we had a wooden house. My friends were street kids. When we went out in our Volkswagen, we'd pass tons of children waving at us. I felt like Princess Diana. When I went to high school and eventually college, the makeup of my friend groups had changed. I started dating and paying attention to what I wore. When I started my career, my friends changed again. Their priorities were making money and having fun, and those were my priorities, too.
That is not to say I had no identity of my own. I did. But my priorities shifted dramatically based on the people I spent time with. One thing that did remain constant throughout each phase was my thirst for growth. I picked up a philosophy book when I was 12—I wanted to learn more about why we are the way we are—and I never stopped.
Exploring these ideas theoretically was one thing, but we learn best through experience. And, retrospectively, I know that that's what I was doing when I tried on all those different personalities, all those different lifestyles. I had to learn what caused pain and what brought pleasure, what was driven by ego and what by humility, and what my ethics and morals were. And one of the most important lessons I learned through that exploration was this: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
I had to learn through experience how much the desire for a sense of belonging affected my choices. I was impressionable, and I tried on other people's values before I determined my own. Once I realized what I'd been doing, I started reflecting more. I looked for patterns in thinking and behavior, and I began to really figure out why I was doing the things I did.
I was objectively successful and had everything that someone would think would make one "happy," but I didn't feel successful. I wasn't happy. And I realized that none of those things mattered if I didn't like the person looking back at me in the mirror. So, I asked myself the big question: