Must We Purge Our Friends of Those Who Don’t Share Our Goals and Aspirations?


“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn

You’ve likely heard this quote or a version of it.

I get the sentiment. I accept that our outlook in life as well as the things we do, say and think are influenced by those in our immediate circle.

Does that mean we need to purge those in our peer group whose values and priorities don’t resonate with our own?

Should we have to carefully curate the people we associate with, to maximize our chances of a happy and successful life?

Is it essential to surround ourselves with driven, focused and inspirational models of the person we want to be in order to succeed?

I actually rather like my friends. I love my family. I’m quite fond of many of my co-workers.

I’m not sure I want to have a cull, just because they don’t share the same goals and priorities in life as me. Is that not the logical conclusion of the message that Rohn and other mainstays of personal development would have us believe?

The average of those you associate with

If you’re looking to grow into a new and better version of yourself it can be a lonely experience. Progress requires persistent and consistent action, pushing outside the comfort zone that feels safe and familiar.

Whether the goal is to make money, build a business, achieve mental peace, strengthen relationships or to build the perfect body there’s much to be said for seeking help from others.

Having trained in a gym both alone and with a trainer, I know that I accomplish more as a result of the support, encouragement, guidance and accountability that a trainer brings to the party. The same is true in other endeavours too.

Personal development rhetoric suggests that we engage mentors and surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who share similar goals and are equally driven and as motivated as we are. It’s a means of encouraging accountability and of pushing ourselves in the right direction. We hope that by being around those who’ve achieved what we crave, that some of their glory will rub off on us.

How far do we take this though? Should we allow the pursuit of our goals to spill over into every aspect of our lives, including who we spend our time with?

The lowest common denominator

We’ve all experienced the needy and energy-sapping friendships that suck our time and resources from us. Many have suffered toxic and draining relationships where the wrong kind of person brought us down rather than lifted us up.

Such experiences teach that our actions, aspirations and energy tend towards to the lowest common denominator.

While we may recognise the influence and involvement of others as harmful or corrosive, we often get pulled down by them and lose our resolve anyway.

It’s like the corrupting influence of the friend who derails our health-kick, dragging us to the bar where they intend to spend their evening rather than letting us go to the gym where we’d intended to be. Their motive may have been to ease their conscience or to sabotage our efforts. Perhaps it was out of a misguided desire to show us a good time?

Either way, the effects are the same.

We sink to their level.

The detrimental effects that such people can have upon our lives when we let them, is significant. The improvements when we cut them from our lives are usually evident and immediate.

When we tolerate negative or disruptive people in our lives the buck stops with us. The opposite is also true though; actively seeking the involvement of positive and inspirational people in our lives has an uplifting effect. It’s more likely to lift us up to their level and raise our game.

More of the positive, less of the negative

“The rising tide lifts all the boats.”
— John F. Kennedy

Acknowledging the importance of choosing who we associate with, the challenge then is to what extent we should modify our friendship and peer groups to support us in our personal development goals. Can this alone dictate our success or failure? Do we really feel strongly enough about our goals to want to shape our whole life around them, including who we associate with?

The conclusion I’ve reached is that I don’t intend to amend my circle at all. Or rather, as gate-keeper to my own life, my time and attention it would appear I’ve been doing this already.

I’ve escaped the toxic relationship that threatened to derail my world, my sanity and damage my ties with friends, family and my kids. I’ve allowed the negative and unhelpful friendships to fade out. I’ve stopped engaging with the whining coworkers who wanted to waste time complaining about perceived injustices and the inequities of the world.
The relationships that remain are there for a reason. They have an innate value and bring about positive effects in my life more widely than in my goals. They make me who I am.

I hope they’re enriching for the other people too, in equal measure.

I don’t want to curate or manipulate the five people I spend the most time with based on their wealth, attitude, goals, level of drive or ambition. Does that mean that I have to settle for lesser results or that I’ve no chance of achieving my full potential? Maybe, but I severely doubt it.

You’ve got a friend in me

Derek Sivers shares his perspective on friends:

“Friends come and go based on life circumstances. Proximity and interests spark friendships, but proximity and interests change. Best friends become old distant friends. New friends become best friends. Some people get married and stop calling. Some people get divorced and re-appear. I still love them all…”

— Derek Sivers

The friendships that have remained through my life are those that enable a connection on a level that’s valued on all sides. The people I surround myself with are all precious to me otherwise we wouldn’t have connected in the first place or remained connected since.

There may be gaps to fill and I’m always up for meeting new people and hopefully making friends with them. But there’s no dead-wood to be cut from the current roster.

Is there a danger in being too driven?

If we were all fixated on surrounding ourselves with those whose achievements and ethos we want to mimic, and looking notionally upwards to connect with our gurus then by definition nobody would be looking to help those behind them. Surely this would lead to a self-serving society of people only fixated on their own advancement?

Some might say that this a sad and accurate reflection of the attitudes of many in the western world today. There’s an interesting alternative perspective though — one that frames growth and personal development as a coin with two sides: the Buddhist concept of dependent origination.

It describes the idea that bundles of reeds leaning upon each other are mutually dependent for support if they’re to remain upright. Take one away and the other falls to the ground. Neither is there solely to support the other or to be supported by the other. One cannot be without the other.

We, humans, have two hands; one to reach forward to access help from those ahead of us, and the other to offer back to those who need a pull forwards (or just a hand to hold for comfort and support).

As I consider these perspectives on friendship, mentorship and the influence of others it’s revealed a few helpful principles that I strive to apply in my own life.

  • I am the ultimate guardian of my life and my attention — I’m responsible for choosing how to spend my time and who I spend it with.
  • I have the choice to tolerate interference, distraction and time-wasters and the freedom to cull such influences from my life.
  • A gap in knowledge, experience or emotional support can be filled by seeking help without sacrificing or purging others from my life.
  • If I selfishly hoard my time, focusing only on what I can get from others then I’m not fulfilling my duty to be there to help others in their advancement too. Just as I seek help from others in my life I’m beholden to help others in theirs.


It seems to me that we need to devote as much time and energy in reaching forwards to access help to advance as we devote to reaching back to help those who need us.

“An Arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” — Leonardo Da Vinci

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