I often joke that my girlfriend has gotten the 4.2 version of Sean. It wasn’t until I went through a few bad relationships and friendships that I became the man I am today. Yet I even winced after writing the word “man.” It feels like an illusory, aspirational concept, a representation of a perfect self I can never reach.
I think of each person as being like a software program, with its own algorithm and decision tree it uses. Operating in a fluid environment where change is always needed. Consequently, each of us is in need of routine patch updates.
Bad relationships are like a virus. By the time you realize you’re infected, it’s too late—the damage is done and you need to run a system repair. Toxic relationships bring out the worst in both people. They make us buggier humans.
Good relationships, on the other hand, are like a major hardware upgrade. I’m blessed to be in a relationship with such a hardworking, organized, intelligent, kind woman. She makes me better at everything.
When you surround yourself with good people, it has a ripple effect. And there are few things more consequential than your choice of romantic partner or spouse. Choose wisely.
Looking back at people in my own life
My parents used to freak out about who I hung out with. I thought they were overbearing at the time. Like most things, I’ve come to realize they were right.
Not to sound mean, but the people they didn’t approve of haven’t amounted to much in life. They are lazy and have massively sold themselves short. They are literally the same person they were in high school. Who would have that type of goal? Well, them, I guess.
My dad used to say, “Show me the five people you spend the most time with, and I’ll have a pretty good idea of who you are.”
This is, sadly, why so many people come out of prison worse off than they were going in. It’s also partly why people fork out top dollar to send their kids to good schools.
When you surround yourself with good people, it often means you spend time with those who are better than you: smarter, wiser, funnier, more charming. It’s an exercise in humility and it can be intimidating.
My goal is not to make everyone elitist and judgmental. Just because someone has a major flaw—that doesn’t mean they aren’t an incredible person. We all have our issues.
The hard truth I’ve faced over the years?
Not everyone makes the cut.
There is a time for partying and being a fool, but some people take that lifestyle way past its expiration date.
My father, who has had great success in the military and private sector, tends to orient people as team players or self-serving. He has no patience for selfish people and I suggest you practice the same intolerance.
His intolerance comes from his athletic background and military service. I’ve tried to practice what he preaches and not constantly think about, “What’s in it for me?”
I swear, I’ve known a few people who would snatch a Titanic life raft for themselves, and boot several kids out with an oar just to be safe.
Finding team players in the chaos
It’s tough. The world can feel so dog-eat-dog. Everyone in the corporate world can seem so worried about their own job and next promotion. And very little else.
At one of my very first finance jobs, I was only a couple of weeks into a new role, learning an endless list of systems and processes. There was a sudden emergency and I needed to put out a proverbial fire. My manager and the only other person I worked with were out of the office. I felt totally panicked and had no experience, so I didn’t know how to deal with the pressure. A senior executive wanted a report on a product line that had tanked and had knocked on my cubicle with a drive-by request (that’s what we called it).
Someone walking by noticed me frantically pounding on my keyboard and looking confused. They directed me to someone who could help. That person then spent a full hour showing me how to get into this other database and extract the data. They had nothing to gain. They already had a big workload of their own to manage and still did this. I never forgot it.
It’s a powerful gesture to step outside of yourself, to show a willingness to go above and beyond to help a teammate out, even when there’s nothing to receive in return. It speaks immensely of a person’s character. Those helpful people don’t know it, but they’re setting themselves up for success. They’ll be remembered as a team player.
The best part?
Being a team player is a choice, not a talent. Anyone can do it.
It might be irrational to believe in karma or anything like it, but I cling to the belief that the energy we put into this world is what comes back.
Researchers at NYU did an experiment where an actor interacted with individual participants. When this actor smiled and jiggled their feet, the participant tended to do the same versus the control group. This pattern of copying repeated itself across various iterations and experiments.
In addition to being a genetic shortcut for training new people, mimicry is a way of building rapport. Even further, the participants in the study reported never seeing the deliberate behaviors by the actor, or recall having done them.
We are innately wired to mimic. That’s why matching body language is such an effective way to build trust and be more likable.
So much of who we are is shaped by our genetics and how we are raised. After that, change is up to us. And the next best card we can stack in our deck is to surround ourselves with good people, those who represent a self we’d want to be.
I’ll add one last caveat to this — ensure you give people a fair shake, a trial period so to speak. I wouldn’t want to be judged by a bad day or mood I was in. I doubt you would either. I would also make sure there is diversity amongst the people you meet. Differing perspectives and talents will help you become more dynamic and well-rounded.
I have a dream team of friends I’d love to have. But I’ve only got a couple of them in the circle at the moment. I’ll continue my search.