When I moved from Oregon to Washington, D.C., at 23 years old for a job at the PBS NewsHour (formerly the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer), I spent a solid two years in a state of culture shock. It seemed as though everyone around me had more money than I did, was more educated and successful, and knew more people – the latter of which was an easy feat since I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in D.C.
The adjustment and realizations were a bit soul-crushing at first; I was at the bottom of a very tall career ladder. But since I moved here 12 years ago, I’ve used the experience to my advantage. Most of us have heard the saying, “You are who you surround yourself with.” Well, in D.C., you’re surrounded by lots of hyper-successful people who appear to have always been at the top of their class for seemingly everything. However, this was not the case for me. I’m from a small farming town where private schools don’t really exist and hanging out with my friends was more of a priority than getting straight As. In high school, let’s just say my aspirations were more notable than my grades. Then when I got to college, I made above-average grades because I knew they would help pave my way to success.
With all that being said, I had seen people take successful career paths before (I wasn’t thatsheltered), but I hadn’t encountered the hyper-competitive, laser-focused types of people in D.C., whose first questions upon meeting me were, “What school did you go to and what do you do?”
My new east coast reality has felt extremely obnoxious some of the time, but it’s propelled me to do better, set my goals higher than I ever thought possible and boost my confidence – enough so that I’m here writing this article and telling all of you about it.
The truth is, I’ve always known how to talk, but translating that to paper has been a work in progress. So, moving to D.C. and being surrounded by friends who are doctors, lawyers or business owners, or have had jobs in the White House, on Capitol Hill or anywhere else that requires a decent amount of education and high tolerance for stress, has been eye opening and inspired me to reach higher in my professional life. For me, that has meant doing more freelance writing.
And it turns out there is scientific evidence that supports the theory that who you surround yourself with strongly influences your own behavior.
A recent article by Quartz at Work said, “Studies confirm that who we spend time around can profoundly impact us … Another demonstrates that our happiness is often directly related to our colleagues and friends. Still another shows that our behavior is heavily influenced by our friends. In a business context, it’s easy to see how your friends and associates influence you. The late entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn put it simply and powerfully when he said, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Motivational speaker Les Brown put it more bluntly: ‘If you run around with nine losers, pretty soon you’ll be the tenth loser.’”
Now, I’ve never chosen my friends based on their level of success, and that’s not what I’m saying to do here. However, I do choose my friends based on their kindness, how they support me, their level of positivity (or lack thereof), etc. I have one friend in particular who is always calm, and whenever I’m feeling a bit irrational, I think of how she would respond, or I just give her a call and she generally helps me laugh through whatever emotions I’m feeling. See, influence doesn’t have to always equate directly to your career and what that person can do for you, but when someone is positively influencing your life, it often ends up positively impacting your behavior, and ultimately your career.
So what I’m saying is, who you surround yourself with matters.
I also make a point to stay in touch with people – it’s how I’ve always been. I have friends I’ve known my entire life with whom I still communicate. I don’t stay in touch for the soul purpose of networking; staying in touch with people is how I network.
For example, I know CU Times Managing Editor Natasha Chilingerian from journalism school at the University of Oregon. While in college, She interviewed me for an article she was writing about a documentary I had recently done. My job at CU Times exists because we remained friends on social media and I stayed in touch with her. About six years ago, she posted an advertisement for a social media manager on Facebook and I responded. When the freelance budget was cut a year after I started that position, I kept in touch with Natasha and Myriam DiGiovanni, a former writer for CU Times. I’m glad I did, because a few years after my first stint, the freelance budget grew and I re-joined the publication.
My intent for these relationships was never to gain anything from them (other than great company). However, I try to surround myself with motivating, inspiring, funny people who may not be just like me but are looking for similar things in life, such as growth, and are willing to look out for me as I would for them.
So, if you’re trying to grow and don’t know what’s stopping you, you should perhaps take stock of who you’re surrounding yourself with. Is your circle inspiring or minimizing you? Are you someone other people want to be around? If not, now is the time to reflect and make changes to improve yourself and those around you – if and when you do, you and your career will likely improve.
A version of the article originally appeared in the Credit Union Times.