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:
What is standing between this present version of myself and the future version of myself—the version I want to be?
You probably guessed it: I needed people around me who made me better, propelled me toward my goals, and supported my ambitions. Honestly, letting go of the friends whose lives were not aligned with the direction mine was heading in wasn't difficult. But surrounding myself with a new soul tribe was a whole different ballgame. I wasn't looking for just any friends. I was trying to upgrade my internal operating system and become me, 2.0. That, for me, meant being someone who speaks her truth, has integrity, searches for meaning, and interacts with kindness and openness.
Once I started living my truth, though, I started to attract the kind of friends who were seeking the same enlightenment and purpose I was. I naturally drew in people who were journeying on the same path as I was.
Spending time with people you admire, who support you, encourage you, and open you up to new ideas truly makes the difference between reaching your full potential and never living up to it. Don't waste time with anyone who doesn't speak to your soul. You'll know them when you see them.