Robin Sharma and Dan Ariely on Who You Should Be Friends With

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Robin Sharma, a famous personal growth and success guru often preaches that we should surround ourselves with people who are inspiring, driven, and who motivate us to be better. In a way, he means that we should be around people who we think are better than us so that we have a high threshold to grow and achieve success at a higher pace. This is similar to the idea that one is the average of the 5 people they spend their time with, a very popular statement in leadership coaching.

This way of looking at people makes the institution of friendship a bit materialistic, I believe. It denies the importance of true, trustworthy friends and reinforces the idea of hierarchy. This is because while picking friends, one’s parameter may go from someone around whom they feel happy, comfortable and opened up to, to someone who they can look up to. The individual may push themselves into relationships where they’re merely glorifying the other but not being able to really trust them or be their true selves around.

On the question of existing friendships, I don’t think staying away from your friends because they don’t inspire you is a good idea. This standard is too high and not accepting and loving of people as they are. Your friends may not be crazy successful, but could be fighting their own struggles in their lives. They could be at their stage of the ladder climbing and don’t deserve to be abandoned just because you want to be with more successful people. That would be a superficial move devoid of empathy and humanity.

Now, if we are at a pace of growth where we’re naturally gravitating towards more professionally, academically or entrepreneurially like- minded people, whose pace of growth matches our own, then it’s different. Then it’s more about what we are attracting effortlessly, and less about strategizing superficially. This is a very common phenomenon mentioned in a lot of self- help literature as well, that once you are on a track of growth, and your immediate environment doesn’t catch up, you naturally “transcend” them if they refuse to grow at the same pace, similar to the “up or out” phenomenon as mentioned below.

An interesting analogy that comes to mind is of consulting firms. They say that the “Big 4” have a concept of “Up or Out”- if you are not getting promoted quickly enough, then you’re apparently not cut-out for this high paced growth environment, and are better off at other firms where your growth is not measured by how quickly you’re getting promoted.

I agree with Robin Sharma’s idea to some extent, because I have experienced the benefits of spending time with highly driven and inspiring people, but as I think deeper about it, in contrast, Dan Ariely’s principle of relativity comes to my mind.

In Predictably Irrational, researcher and behavioural economist Dan Ariely mentions the principle of relativity. In short, he says that if we surround ourselves with people who make relatively less money than us, then we end up feeling more happy because our brains are wired to compare everything. He implies in the end of this chapter that we should spend more time with people who are not as “high up” or great or successful as us, I.e relatively “lower” since this will make us feel better about ourselves and have a more positive self image.  This goes contrary to Sharma’s theory of being around more successful people so that we feel driven to do better. I feel that Ariely’s solution is regressive because one can’t consciously surround themselves with people who make less just to feel good about themselves. This would be a very negative coping mechanism and false way of feeling good about oneself. It may also turn into what the Buddhists call animality- dominating those who you consider inferior and succumbing to those who you consider superior. Further, do note that Ariely’s focus is on monetary success while Sharma’s is more on superior attitude and life skills.

This is also similar to the idea of how we tend to gravitate towards those who see us for who we want to be. I heard this in Professor Madhavi Menon’s class and found it quite impactful. This would assume that it won’t matter if those who see us for who we want to be are doing better or worse than us in our areas of interest. Their expertise or level won’t matter, because it is their perspective of us that would make us want to spend more time with them. Menon called this unconscious tendency a form of narcissism.

I believe that we should seek people who we feel happy and comfortable around as well as who inspire and motivate us. Some people may not be very inspirational but make us laugh, support us when we need them and play other important roles in our lives. At the same time, you may have friends who you are not too close with but they serve as good mentors and have great insights into the next step you should take in life. You need all kinds of friends in your life to enjoy a complete and diverse experience of connection and intimacy.

More importantly, connections and relationships in our life reflect the stage at which we are at in our lives. In a personal growth workshop I was recently a part of, the facilitator Yogesh Parmar said “how you show up magnifies what shows up for you“. Hence, neither Robin Sharma, nor Dan Ariely hit the nail right for me.

For a good one year, I would attract musicians wherever I went. During a summer trip to the U.S, I was in a bus going from Boston to New York, and the person sitting next to me, in front of me and behind me were ALL musicians. When I was at the conference which was the main purpose of travel, I once again became closer to those who had been professional musicians before or were aspiring to be at that time, without knowing this detail about them before. Hence, this was purely coincidental, and a period in my life when I was obsessed with Hip-Hop- it was all that I used to think about and wanted to become.

A year later as well, I was on my way to a lecture at Chanakya road near CP, and a fellow batchmate from college was helping us get into discounted autos in clusters to get there faster from the metro station. The person I was randomly put inside an auto with turned out to be very like minded academically. A year later, I saw that he too had started releasing music! He was rapping, producing and had built a studio at home. I could not believe it.

Therefore, I think we have little conscious control over who or what enters our life, and it’s much more of a subconscious game. Our life condition is a mirror, throwing people and circumstances at us that push us to look within and realize our deepest values, goals, desires and flaws.

So fix your insides, and the right outsides will manifest. You wouldn’t have to “think” about who to be friends with. It’ll happen on its own.

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