You are who your closest friends make you

By Shaheed Shihan

On a fine sunny afternoon, I felt the urge to look for some motivation, as if the weather along with my coffee wasn’t enough reason already. I stumbled upon a quote by Jim Rohn — “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I probably read it five times before it completely struck me. My coffee turned bitter, the sun less bright. 

On my quest for motivation, I found this to be very confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my roommates, and living with them has been the highlight of my years in college so far. But I couldn’t fathom the danger, disrespect and truth this statement held simultaneously. Danger, because people, including myself, share this statement as if it were an absolute truth. Disrespect, because it diminishes the power of free will. Truth, because, well, it is true. Of course, the circumstance is crucial. 

The statement consumed my thoughts to the point where I put this down as my Facebook status. Yes, it meant that much to me. Friends’ likes on the post only enhanced my certainty in the truth of the quote. But I wasn’t completely satisfied. I found the idea that my future was somehow irreversibly tied to the people around me insulting to a certain extent. Maybe it was just self-ego, but do we not all think, at some point or some way in our life, that we are better than some of our surroundings?

Mathematically speaking, however, the statement did make sense. It refers to the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. I thought about the time when I hung around a nagging friend, and I remember how dull and miserable my life seemed. I thought about our graduating class and how so many of my friends dreamed about studying abroad. How much of a role did that play in getting me here? I thought about the time when my car was being hammered down from all sides by a lynch mob. Did half of them even know what I had done? Where had they gotten all that anger from? In those circumstances, this quote definitely came to play. 

But the statement was insulting to the likes of people like Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison and he definitely defied the rule. I found that believing in such a saying was submitting to a position of personal mediocrity. And I wasn’t quite ready for that.

So maybe I was looking at the quote wrong. Maybe if I toyed around with the variables — presumably whom and how many I spend time with — then I could find a way around it. If I could increase the sample size, then the average would definitely get smaller. And that, in turn, would solve the problem of whom to spend time with. The context to which the statement is applied is definitely debatable. I enjoy comparing it to a vaccine: we need the virus to get the antibody. Our resilience as individuals is definitely a factor, but in the end, the right dose of negativity can only help us excel. 


Shaheed Shihan is majoring in mathematics. He can be emailed at [email protected].