I’ve been in those same school assemblies as you have. I remember hearing business and community leaders, millionaires, role models, celebrities, mentors and even teachers repeating this one simple truth: Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your destiny. Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.
Now, I’ll be honest. When I was a kid, the moment any adult said this to me, I completely erased it from my memory. It was like my dad trying to tell me what music to listen to.
Needless to say, I was wrong. Of course, I didn’t learn that until many years later, after making many of the mistakes the mentors, millionaires, teachers, parents and other role models warned me about. The truth is they were all right: Your friends may be the most important voices in your life. Their voices are louder and greater than anyone else’s. Your friends really do determine your future.
As humans, we hunger for acceptance. We want validation. We long for belonging. And our friends give us those things. Therefore, our friends have the power to influence our thoughts, decisions and atmosphere.
And those things? Well, they determine our future. The thoughts we entertain, the actions we choose and the atmosphere we “do life” in are huge factors in determining the direction of our lives. At the end of the day, our friends are a big part of shaping those three areas. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to who our friends are.
Still don’t believe me? Let me give you some examples.
Our friends influence the way we think
Let’s start with our thoughts.
When I was younger, I had two friends who grew up down the street from one another. One became a very successful executive at Google, and the other was eventually sent to prison for many years. Let’s just call them “The Google Exec” and “The Lost One.”
When we were younger, we all had choices. And on my block, we were faced with two specific choices: the right way or the wrong way. Luckily, we still had the option to choose which path we were going to take. (So many people out there believe they don’t have that option, but that’s another book for another day.) We were all eventually asked the same questions from the same group of guys who had already made the choice to go the wrong way.
“Y’all wanna smoke?”
“Y’all wanna get some money?”
Your answers to questions like those dictate not just your next steps but ultimately the outcome of your life.
The Google Exec said no to both of those questions while The Lost One said yes. Not just once, but over and over again. We tried to tell The Lost One many times to say no, but he continued to say yes again and again. Over time, we noticed he started to hang less and less with us and more and more with them.
One day, we pulled The Lost One to the side and asked him, “Why do you keep hanging out with them? They’re going to get you locked up!” The Lost One replied with a simple, “I don’t know.” He didn’t believe they were going to get caught. In his words, “They never get caught.” Two years later, The Lost One was arrested for selling drugs and robbing a store. We hated to see this, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t see it coming.
You see, what The Lost One got caught up in is what I see young leaders and students all around the country getting caught up in again and again. They believe they’re strong enough and smart enough to overcome the power of collective thought. But at the end of the day, what separates my friend who ended up in a leadership position at Google and my friend who wound up in jail was how they processed the decision to stay or go.
Even when everyone in your circle is thinking and doing the wrong thing, you somehow still think you’ll be strong enough to do the right thing? Let me just go ahead and tell you the truth: This never works. Eventually, we all buckle under the pressure if we stick around long enough.
Our thoughts are usually not strong enough to overcome the collective thoughts of friends.
And our thoughts lead to the next important piece of the puzzle: our decisions.
Our friends influence our decisions
I think we could apply The Lost One’s story to this section as well. But let me tell you another one.
I went to a performing arts high school from eighth to 11th grade. One of the greatest things about attending a performing arts high school was the exposure it gave me to so many different avenues of artistic expression. Because the design of the school was to create an environment that was hyper-focused on our artistic talents, every now and then they would take us out of class during the middle of the school day to attend a musical or concert for the purpose of seeing something new. They believed that if we could see something new—something executed in the highest artistic way—it would help make us better artists. It would grow us, change us and hopefully inspire us.
So one day they took us to a musical called Soweto. It was about the South African apartheid. The songs were amazing, the harmonies were out of this world and the acting was unbelievable. Some of the people from that musical went on to perform on Broadway. As a student, it truly inspired me. Something changed in me as I watched it, and I hoped that one day I could be good enough to be a part of a program like that. Now if I’m being honest, although my hope was deep, I still doubted that I could ever actually be that good.
After the show was over a friend who was a little older than me pulled me to the side and spoke very strongly. He said, “One day, I want to see you on the stage with them. You have what it takes to do it. You should go talk to them today.” In that moment, his words impacted me so much that my doubt instantly disappeared and I rushed to the dressing room and asked for the director of the theater company. He came out, and I pretty much yelled at him, “Sir! I have to be a part of what you guys are doing! I’ll do anything!” He laughed at my excitement and invited me to come to their next rehearsal. I ended up in six shows with that company and went on to write more than 10 original musicals with the director.
It changed my life forever. (That director’s name was Freddie Hendricks. I just want to take a moment to thank him publicly for investing in me.)
How did I go from doubting I’d ever be good enough to bombarding the director backstage? The answer is my friend. He changed the way I saw myself and influenced me to change my decisions. It happened quickly. I had already determined that I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. I was going to walk right out of the theater with my doubt in hand. But my friend changed my decision with one sentence. It was almost as if his confidence was transferred into me with every word that he spoke.
Our decisions are highly impacted by the words and beliefs of our friends.
This is an adapted piece from the book Find Your Voice by Sam Collier, used with permission.