It’s been oft-said that we are the sum total of the five people we spend most of our time with. That our income is the mean of their income. Our personality affected by theirs. Consciously or not, within those five people, we play a role, too – the funny one, the bossy one, the outrageous one. We perform to type, because it’s safe, and we are accepted, and life is easier when it’s comfortable like that.
But what if you wanted to be different? Not completely, just – enough? A little more positive or creative or financially stable or romantic? A smidge more street-smart, book-smart, thought-smart?
Because you can. You can deliberately pick what will influence you to bridge the gap between who you are and who you want to be.
This is what I do:
Who do you admire?
Create your own family tree. Start with the five people you admire most, for whatever reason. They have the business savvy you wish you had, or they freely express their emotions without getting embarrassed or tongue-tied. At the bottom of a landscape-orientated piece of paper, writer their names in a row.
Now, give each of those names two parents – where you suspect or know their influence in that trait or skill comes from. Commit to research the ten names that come up, and investigate where their influence comes from. For example, I adore Zadie Smith’s prose, and know through a thorough Google stalk that she’s incredibly influenced by Keats, and Forster. I’m in the process of devouring the archives of both of those, and when I’m done will fall down the rabbit hole of who influenced them. I am actively pursuing becoming the brain-child of all of these people, so that I might learn… something. Something about being a better writer, I think. I could just Google “how to be a better writer” but I don’t want to hear the theory. I want to bear witness to the practice. There’s a big difference.
How do you network?
Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It’s important to build a support system of people who not only support our dreams – like, say, our mother, or high school BFF – but who also understand our dreams. If you’re building your own business, you’ll need a sounding board for the perils of filing your own tax return. If you’re getting your PhD, sometimes only somebody else in higher education will understand why you’ve not slept in three years. New mothers, yoga enthusiasts, somebody else getting up an hour earlier to add to the word count of their book – we need the people who empathise with our plight because it is their plight, too.
The online world is a real one for this, just FYI. If you’re struggling to find the people who care about what you care about in real life, find the hashtag that works for you, and get to work on connecting via Twitter, or a forum. Reach out, say “me too!” and share your own story. Connections don’t happen by accident – you have to foster them yourself, deliberately. It’s worth it. And yeah, it kind of feels creepy at first. Persist anyway.
You’re an influencer, too
We can get so caught up in what other people are doing and being and seeing and becoming that we forget that we, too, make up the parts of another’s “influencer family tree”. We already have so much to offer – design know-how, or a knack for braiding hair; an understanding of book-keeping or running without injury or how to Instagram like a boss. And so, we must give back. If we are reaching out, we must expect, on whatever small or big level, to be reached out to, and when that happens we should give of ourselves as much as we can without sacrificing ourselves.
Share what you know. Give your time, or your resources, or parts of your heart.
And, as ever, be purposeful about your life. You’ve only got one.