A seagull once pooped on my little sister. She was playing on the elementary school playground when the birds flew overhead (they liked to eat the popcorn dropped by the kids after lunch). Traumatized, she was sent to the nurses office. The nurse was laughing hysterically when she called my Mom at home. Needless to say, my sister was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
The real estate mantra states that the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property are: Location, location, location. Basically, it doesn’t matter if the house has a vaulted ceiling, solid mahogany floors, and an apple orchard in the backyard. If the location is bad, you don’t want it. But location is just as important for people as it is for real estate. Location was key in how I met my future wife. Location was the reason my sister got pooped on. Location, location, location.
But you have to understand what I mean when I say “location”. Unlike real estate, you and I can move around. For people, location is more about who you are with than where you are standing. Our friends have a huge influence on who we become. Consider Issac Newton, who stated: If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants. Newton was able to make great scientific discoveries because he surrounded himself with figurative giants. Once you do that, it is only a matter of time before they start to rub off on you.
We are influenced by everyone we meet, but the people we spend the most time with have the most powerful influence on who we become. We pick up their attitudes, their humor, their perspectives, even their speech. We often like to believe that our identities are set in stone. Not true! We are pliable, like clay. The people we choose to be around today determine who we will be tomorrow.
And yet, we usually let our friends and acquaintances be determined by the random walks of life. What if, instead, you were more deliberate in surrounding yourself with spectacular people that you want to be like. You can practically set yourself up for success.
It is easier than you think it is.
First of all, if you are a student then you have got to start looking at the different clubs and groups at your school. Each one attracts certain kinds of people with similar interests and traits. Do you want to be more athletic? Look up some weightlifting clubs or intramural sports. It’s a lot easier to go to the gym when you’ve got a friend who loves going. Do you want to be better at keeping up on current events? There are tons of intelligent and articulate semi-opinionated, newspaper-reading, politically informed, CNN-junkies that you should brush shoulders with (in Provo you can start at the BYU Political Review, Model United Nations, or the Student - Provo City Alliance). Do you want to explore career options in business? There are clubs about Business Strategy, Management Consulting, Real Estate, Investment Banking… the list goes on and on.
Clubs are easy to join and allow you to jump into a brand new pool of friends that are ready and willing to welcome you in. It never hurts to check them out, and you can always bail later. You may just find a group that really inspires you. But clubs are only one way to put yourself in the right location.
Why not get paid to be around great people at work? We spend so much time at work that the people there have a huge influence on us. Sure, you could just take any old job raking leaves but if you take the time to ask around then you will find opportunities that offer more than just a biweekly paycheck. I was once told that the best thing you can do for your career is to find your ultimate career role model—the one person that you most want to emulate the most—find him, and tell him that you are willing to work for him without pay. That is the value of working with great people.
The suggestion reminds me of a story from “Think and Grow Rich” (good book… awful title). It’s about a guy whose only desire was to partner with Thomas Edison. You can read this overview for the details but in short, he had an incredibly successful career because he went and made it happen.
But there is an easier way surround yourself with good influences. You can use books, blogs, podcasts, and other media to constantly listen to a mixture of good material that matches where you want to be. Often, these authors of this stuff are world class mentors and leaders, giving you a chance to learn from the best. Last summer I listened to several great podcasts on my morning commute to work. Honestly, I was surprised at how the listening had a positive impact on my attitude long after I took out the ear buds. I’ve heard it said that your brain is a “closed system”. If you put “good” in, then “good” will come out. So fill it with the same stuff that all those awesome people do. Follow some awesome people on Twitter and see what they talk about. Find out what they read, and read it too! Find a handful of blogs worth following. Search for that golden podcast. These are all ways to put yourself in the “right location” while staying in the comfort of your home. Issac Newton, who “stood on the shoulders of giants,” was a big student of the works of people like Plato and Aristotle. He didn’t have to be in the same room as them to be influenced by them.
So you can join clubs, do some networking, get involved, land a sweet job, and get your hands on some great reading material, and still have trouble progressing in the way you want to. The fact is that is really hard to be in the right place at the right time. But since it is easier to just be in the right place, you can get started on that. And if you can get in the right place and stay there long enough, the right time will come.