I heard a story told recently about a man trying to enter his mule into a major horse race. The committee looked at the mule and said to the man, “This mule will never win the race, he’s simply no match for the horses.” The man replied saying, “I know, I thought the association will do him some good.”
The story gave a thought in my mind about how much we prefer spending time around people we thought are inferior to us. We enjoyed being the center of attention. We also enjoyed the special feeling when people come to us for answers. Perhaps we even secretly enjoyed being more popular, or earning more, or simply knowing more. We look with envy and contempt towards people we thought are superior in even one aspect than us. Worst, we try to avoid making any kind of association with them. Embarrassingly, I have been in those situations more often than I would like to admit. The problem here is not that being the most popular, or being the go-to guy for answers is bad. The problem is having a mindset to “associate downwards”.
The problem with this kind of mindset is that we fail to notice that no matter how much we know, or how much we can do, it is impossible to be knowledgeable in everything, or to be good in everything we do. That is a reality that we need to accept. I have since learned the value of spending my time around the ‘horses’ in my life. I have adopted the mindset to “associate upwards”. As Steve Jobs so famously said in his now legendary talk at Stanford university, I have made a conscious decision to ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’. I constantly seek to spend time and associate upwards with people who are better leaders, better communicators, have better business sense, or have better abilities in areas that I would like myself to grow in.
It has been said that the level of your success is the average of the level of success of 5 of your closest friends. I do believe there is truth in that statement. I hope reading this will provide you with the motivation to evaluate the people whose company you enjoy. I have heard a funny quote saying, “If you spend enough time with the barbers, you will eventually get a haircut.” Makes great sense, doesn’t it? To learn more about soccer, I would have to spend time with soccer players or coaches to get to know them better. To learn more about leadership, I would have to spend time with experienced and proven leaders. To gain wisdom, I learn from the wise.
That said, I have found that by learning more and growing more, I have found a new sense of achievement and joy while being the center of attention or when people come to me for answers. It is not, however, caused by the pride of being superior, it is knowing that I have found the opportunity to equip others, to lift people up, to add value, knowing that even though it was only by a little, I have made their life better. That realization is truly humbling.
What about you? Who do you usually associate with? Have you had experience of associating with people who have impacted your life positively? Let me know in the comments.