12 Min Read

The company you keep defines your success


One of the most overlooked factors governing how successful you will be is the people you surround yourself with, personally and professionally. Their characters, jobs, wealth, drive, moral compass, etc., have a huge impact on your own character and ambitions and, ultimately, how successful you will be, in business and life.

Why? Because the more often you see something in your life, the more ‘normal’ it becomes. And, because it’s in our nature to want to fit in, we tend to naturally change our actions, thoughts and behaviour to fall in line with what we perceive as ‘normal’.

So you need to surround yourself with people whose habits you admire – people with strong work ethics and ambitions to improve their lives – and spend time with those who have already achieved success. The more time you spend with driven, fit and ambitious people, the more you will absorb those habits and become like them.

On the flip side, if you choose to spend your time with people who are lazy, unhealthy and lack focus, you’ll start to become like them instead. If conversations with your friends usually involve discussing the latest boxset that’s good for a binge-watch or what happened when you got drunk last weekend, that’s undoubtedly going to have a negative impact on your chances of success in life.

Is there any real evidence for all this? Well, in terms of published scientific research into how our social network influences our behaviour, we can look at one of the largest health studies ever – the Framingham Heart Study – which was carried out across 32 years, between 1971 and 2003. Originally focusing on heart health, it was soon noted by two doctors, Nicolas Christakis and James Fowler, that the study covered much more than the heart. They began analysing the data on obesity for a densely interconnected social network of 12,067 people, to see the effect that family members and friends had on each other’s weight.

The results showed that if a friend or family member becomes obese, you’re 45% more likely to gain weight yourself over the next 2-4 years. Even if it’s a friend of a friend that becomes obese, you’re still 20% more likely to gain weight. Put simply, the scientists concluded that if your friend or their friend becomes obese, it changes your perception of what is an acceptable size and your behaviour shifts accordingly.

While I’m not aware of any specific research into proving this effect in terms of success, I’ve seen enough in my life and business dealings to know it’s true.

“Who you spend time with is who you become.” Tony Robbins

I firmly believe that you become like the people you spend 80% of your time with, which is usually the five key adults in your life. This could be your spouse, family, friends or colleagues.

They shape who we are and who we become. Their actions, reactions and behaviours – good and bad – all subconsciously influence our daily choices and decisions.

I’ve seen this in play so many times, not only for myself but for many other successful people I know. I’ve seen mediocre people change their path and fly towards success because they’ve surrounded themselves with ‘winner’ friends. On the flip side, sadly, I’ve also seen people with so much potential and drive be held back by their ‘loser’ friends.

You might think that you’re strong-minded enough not to be swayed by the crowd, but I promise you that nobody – no matter how intelligent and self-aware – is impervious to the influence of their environment.

So, if you’re looking for advancement, choose your crowd carefully and remember that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. This is simple, yet powerful advice.

Winners and losers

Forgive me if it sounds harsh and simplistic, but you need to look at the people around you, decide whether they’re ‘winner’ friends or ‘loser’ friends and then ditch the losers.

‘Winner’ friends inspire you to be the best version of yourself. They empower you to make the changes you need to succeed and motivate you to achieve your goals. They bring out the best in you and cheer on your success. Through healthy competition and passing the hunger for success between you, you will grow in knowledge and get smarter and more confident, becoming ever more successful.

In direct contrast, ‘loser friends’ are negative, judgemental and draining. They have no ambition to improve their own life, so see your efforts as a waste of time. They impose their limiting beliefs on you and will provide you with excuses not to work hard – they might even call you greedy and selfish for being ambitious. In reality, they’re usually simply jealous of what you’re doing and the success you’re achieving. These people can’t help you on your journey; they will only hold you back and choke off your dreams by infecting you with their ‘poor me’ perspective on everything.

“Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.” Colin Powell

I’ve noted a powerful attribute in successful people: they don’t tolerate negative people because negative thoughts only serve to undermine your journey to the top. If you want to be the best version of yourself, you need to eliminate toxicity and negativity from your life.

So, carry out an audit of the five people you spend most of your time with and really consider whether they’re adding value to your life. If someone’s not having a positive impact on you, then it’s simple: you need to walk away from them.

Sometimes that doesn’t require too much effort because, as you advance, some of the negative people will naturally fall away. They won’t want to move forward with you, or they may not be able to keep up with your life as it – and you – evolve. They’ll say you’ve changed and will move on…and that’s okay.

Be aware of how money will change some relationships

From a purely financial perspective, earning more money will lead you to lose some friends and gain others. We like to socialise with people who share our interests and the more you earn, the more things you’ll be able to afford to do. And if the people you consider your closest friends can’t afford to do those things with you, you’ll naturally end up spending less time with them – not because you’ve fallen out, but because there’s now a financial divide.

When one friend starts to earn more and can suddenly go on nicer holidays, eat in high-end restaurants, afford a better car and a more luxurious house and gets invited to fancy parties, that can lead to jealousy and resentment, turning some former friendships toxic. When that happens – as it undoubtedly will for some people – don’t beat yourself up.

If your oldest friends are really your best friends, they’ll be happy for you and supportive of your success. They’ll understand that you might not see each other as often and if it’s a true, heartfelt friendship, you’ll both make the effort to keep in touch. Regardless of money, as long as you continue to uplift and have a positive influence on each other, your friendship should be able to stand the test of time, money and success.

But it’s okay to let a broken friendship fade away. More than that, it’s something you have to do for the good of your long-term health and happiness.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Mark Twain

The company I keep…

I am incredibly fortunate. I have a close group of ten friends that I’ve known since college and each one of us is now very successful in our own field. In fact, the success we’ve all achieved is often remarked upon as an anomaly for our college cohort.

When I met them, we were just kids – some I’ve known since I was 11, others I met at 16 – and we had no idea what would become of us. Yet we all had a fundamental drive to be the very best at what we wanted to do. While I suppose this must have originally come from our families, what became increasingly important was the way that we encouraged and supported each other as friends. We drove each other’s ambition, pulled each other up and cheered each other’s success. We forced each other out of our comfort zones. I didn’t know at the time, but this was the powerful effect of company at play. Without each other’s counsel, support and friendship (and a healthy dose of competition to be the best!), none of us would be where we are today.

The same applies to my family. As a child, I spent most of my time in the care of my brothers (I’m the youngest of 5) because my parents worked long hours to make ends meet. From an early age, we equipped each other with a mindset that said: ‘you can and will be whoever you want to be’ and we each displayed the traits of self-belief, resilience and aspiration that had been handed down to us from our parents. Although we didn’t realise it at the time, we brothers helped drive each other’s hunger and, one by one, we all went on to achieve extraordinary success from humble beginnings. Was this luck? No.

We grew up in a rough neighbourhood. I could have easily fallen into the wrong company and ended up on a totally different life path to the one I’m on now. One with crime, drugs and gangs. My best friend from primary school has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison and that might have been my fate, had I not been pulled away from him pretty quickly by my brothers. Their positive influence and our combined strength of character was overwhelmingly more powerful than the negative forces that were in play in the environment around us.

“Surround yourself with those who only lift you higher.” Oprah Winfrey

You should always be on the path of self-improvement. Never get comfortable, never stay still, and that means always striving to find more people who can have a positive impact on your life. They’re not going to come to you; you have to make a conscious effort to put yourself in front of them, for instance:

  • Local business clubs. Some areas run regular ‘business breakfasts’, where professionals from all kinds of industries get together before the working day to share ideas, information and best practices. This is a great way of meeting inspirational, driven people outside your own field, that you might not otherwise come across.
  • Business events. Make an effort to attend events where you know there will be the opportunity to network with other successful business people. Ask lots of questions and make sure you collect business cards from people who make an impression on you so that you can arrange a further meeting.
  • Online communities. Meetup.com is great way to find and connect with people that share your interests and are actively looking to expand their circles. You’ll be able to find out about local events and join groups to meet up with like-minded people. While not everyone you come across will necessarily motivate you, it can be a good place to cast your net. Business-wise, keeping your Linkedin profile up to date and engaging in conversations and debates online can often open the door to interesting networks and opportunities.
  • Social clubs and gatherings. Where do the movers and shakers in your area hang out? Think about the restaurants, cafes and bars that you tend to go to and ask yourself what kind of people also go there. Could you ‘upgrade’ and give yourself a better chance of crossing paths with better-connected people that could have a positive influence on you?

And in all these encounters, remember to be generous and always try to offer some help or support. Think about what value you can give to others. Successful people are interested in reciprocal relationships and don’t tend give much time to those who are only interested in taking from them.

Be prepared to spend some money

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting for one minute that you buy friends! But almost all the successful people I know have invested in a mentor or coach at some point – someone who knows about what it takes to succeed and can help accelerate your success. The best mentors and coaches know the value of their own time and are greatly in demand, so you’re not going to get their help for free, or even cheaply. If cost is a real issue, you may be able to find a ‘mastermind group’ but there really is no substitute for one-on-one coaching. So, if it’s do-able, make a mentor or coach part of your circle and I promise the investment will be worthwhile.

Remember that you will only improve by reaching up towards the next rung on the ladder, so you have to keep learning from those who have already achieved what you’re striving for. For example, top athletes use superior competition to bring out their best – they improve by pitting themselves against those who are better than them. My son is purposefully training with adults in the hand to hand combat called “Krav Maga”. He’s only 15 and is the youngest in the class by a considerable margin. But, by training with those who are older, more experienced and physically stronger (and bigger) than him, he himself will become stronger, faster and more technically advanced far more quickly than if he were in a group with other children of his age.

In that same vein, in order to advance, you must keep putting yourself in front of people you admire and respect, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. As Confucius said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”

“Success is something you attract by the person you become.” Jim Rohn

While the company you keep has a huge influence on your success because you can’t help but be impacted by your environment, there is a second force at work: the law of attraction. Essentially, it’s the idea that if you put out there what you want, it will come to you.

Let me leave you with these thoughts. If you want to attract the time and attention of generous, ambitious, encouraging people, you must be generous, ambitious and encouraging. Are you a good friend? Are you positive? Are you motivational and supportive? Because, as much as other people are influencing you, you yourself are influencing others.

So be the best influence you can be. Think about what you can do to help other people and make time for giving. Embrace the habits and people that improve you and make you a better person and give up those that add nothing positive to your life. Remember, you cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people that you choose to be around.

Choose your circle wisely!

The Butterfly Effect: Small changes made now can have a huge impact on your longer-term success