Do Your Friends Determine How Successful You Are?


“It’s not necessarily that you’re arrogant Ryan, it’s just that you’re too damn critical of other people.”

I let the words sink in as I hung up the phone. It wasn’t that I touted my own accomplishments; in fact I like to think of myself as a fairly humble (though self-assured) person. It was that I judged others for their lack of accomplishments, for their lack of ambition. Was my disdain causing others to view me as arrogant?

I mean, if your friends can make you fat then certainly they can make you apathetic, content, etc. (or successful, rich, fit.) Research everywhere will confirm your social circle affects your behavior. My logic is sound right?

I have a hard time understanding why people are content with “C’s,” being overweight, smoking weed, and slew of other things that to me signify laziness and apathy. That’s just my disposition I suppose. (I get that there are extenuating circumstances. I also get that those C’s probably won’t matter in the ‘real world.’)

In the scheme of things, I have accomplished jack shit, but there’s so many things I want to accomplish, that I’m working for, that I’d like to think I’m laying the foundation of right now. I don’t even compare myself to people my age. I try to interact and learn from people older, wiser and more experienced than me, so that I can achieve great things by the time I’m their age.

I love my friends dearly, and honestly, most of my good friends are all doing big things. It’s other people’s friends I get in trouble with. It’s no coincidence I’ve surrounded myself with ambitious people striving for something more than enough money to buy a bag of schwag for the weekend.

I’ve also pruned the people who try to bring me ‘back down.’ See, I have plenty of crazy ideas, and a friend once told me that someone ‘had to bring me back down.’ At the time I thought she was right, but the more I thought about it, the more that was blasphemy. I wanted people who supported my ridiculous ideas, who would help me, against all odds, find a way to make them a reality.

I guess subconsciously I’ve concluded that my lifeline had to be made of people who would push me and challenge me to achieve the things I desired. It’s a well-known fact that when people have your back it is easier to stay on course, easier to stay motivated.

If all your friends were stuck on 50 course hours after 5 years, lived for partying on the weekends, and apathetic about bettering themselves could you still scratch and fight and claw your way to success? You’re damn right you could, but I think it’s easier if your friends are in the same boat you’re in. So as far as I’m concerned, at least in some capacity, the answer to the title of this post is a resounding YES.

What do you think? Am I just trying to justify being a shallow asshole? Do the people you surround yourself with have an impact on where you end up? What do your friends say about the type of person you are?

Photo Credit: M.V. Jantzen


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  • I think this is one of the better posts you’ve done in awhile. Honest, personal — nice.

    We’ve discussed this matter a few times, but of course it matters who you surround yourself with. I don’t even think people realize what kind of situation they’ve put themselves in half the time. Hopping in the same boat with people who work harder than you is a surprisingly easy way to boost your productivity.


    admin Reply:

    @Charlie – Thanks a lot. You know I value your opinion when it comes to my writing and the thoughts I’m projecting. I know that like me, you’re a proponent of work hard, play hard, but having watched who you’ve surrounded yourself with, clearly it’s helping you continue working up your own ‘ladder.’ (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)


  • I’m 23 years old – graduated college a year ago, been working at a mega ad agency for a year, supporting myself 100%, engaged, etc. It’s weird to me because when I look around at my friends, the people I went to highschool and even college with – for a vast majority of them – nothing has changed in their lives. They are content with doing nothing – coasting by, working a dead end job just to make enough money to go out next Friday night and get trashed.

    It’s weird to me because my personality – and it sounds like you as well – is so much more driven, always wanting more, not satisfied with coasting and taking the ‘easy’ road. I’ve distanced myself from many of my former friends because I don’t want that kind of life philosophy ‘infecting’ who I am and where I want to be, trying to hold me back. I wish I could explain it, why people my age are still content visiting highschool parties, getting laid by barely legal girls, and getting drunk every night while their parents take care of them and let them live at home and do nothing.

    One of the things that happens as you get older – you really learn who your friends are. For me, the most important component of friendship is respect. Surrounding yourself with people you respect and even admire can make a huge difference – having that support and companionship is great.

    Good post Ryan – honest thoughts that inspired me to come out with a little ‘rant’ of my own.


    admin Reply:

    @Matt – Glad I could inspire a rant, and your rants are always welcome here. My childhood friends will always be my boys. I’m psyched they’re all doing something with their lives, but in the past when someone has struggled we’ve all been there to pull each other up by the bootstraps. My best friends could be the biggest losers ever and I’d love them just the same, but you can bet any “new” friends are people I have a certain amount of immediate respect for — people that aspire to something.

    I think support is important, and I’ve been thinking a lot about ways we all can leverage and support one another in this online space. I might have a few things up my sleeves over the coming months.


  • Ryan-

    I have been struggling with this a lot recently as well. For too long I associated myself with people who were satisfied with a routine, with not truly striving for something bigger than themselves. I always knew I wanted more. What I didn’t realize until recently (although these people have good values) is that this mentality rubs off on you.

    Now I am reaching out to people who I know will push me, give me a kick in the behind. I don’t want to hear “oh Carla, you will be fine! Just relax.” When “fine” is the goal, something is wrong. I’m learning that I want someone to hold me accountable, tell me I’m wrong, push me to do better.

    It’s about realizing the personality of your friends and who they are. Sometimes those friends who don’t push you are in your life for other reasons. You just have to find others who will push you to strive for something more as well.

    Thanks, Ryan for putting this out there.



    admin Reply:

    @Carla – You’re 100% right that mentality can rub off on you. Personally, I don’t mind having a few around, if not to remind myself what I aspire to accomplish, but I think the majority of your friends have to be people that won’t let you settle. They have to push you along during periods where you don’t have the strength and energy to push yourself.

    I love that you say, “When ‘fine’ is the goal, something is wrong.” I also agree 100% that we don’t have to necessarily “throw out” old friends. That’s not what this post is about. Thanks for your insights Carla!


  • Oooo! Oooo! I get to comment as an “older, more experienced” person! You are right on the whole; bright, ambitious, dedicated people will inspire and encourage you, and slackers will drag you down.

    Be sure, however, that you do not overlook quiet people who are content to lead a simple life. Not a dull, aimless life, but a simple one. They don’t strive to make a lot of money or have a high social profile, or even to get to the top of a low-paying field. They do, however, want to live life to the fullest, which means constantly learning and having new experiences. They may travel a lot on a shoestring, for example. They may be very dedicated to a cause or hobby, which takes their money and money-making time. These people can also greatly enrich your life.


    admin Reply:

    @Angelique – Great addition to the discussion and certainly something to be mindful of. I couldn’t agree more, so much so that I could very well see myself being one of those people (one day, perhaps.)

    I think the key to what you’re getting at though is that they’re still ambitious. They’re striving for fulfillment (just in a different way than the people running the rat race.) Lifestyle management, wealthy or not, is certainly an intriguing concept.


  • I’m going to echo the other comments and say of course they do! I have the same issue and finally learned in college how to distance myself from people like this. I didn’t feel their mentality rubbing off, but they were constantly needing never-to-be-repaid favors or advice or other energy (like worry) from me and it was just plain exhausting.

    This means, though, that I’m down to a very small circle of good friends. I’d love to find a way to find more friends to motivate me (and who want me to motivate them); young entrepreneurs especially (I have my own business). Older friends are awesome, but they’re usually not facing the same challenges so I’d love to find more peers.


    admin Reply:

    @Sarah – Thanks for your insights and contribution to the discussion. We’re a strong little community of young professionals. There’s communities like Brazen Careerist and 20Something Bloggers, etc. where you can meet like-minded people who you can certainly motivate (and be motivated by you) – and there may be some new outlets coming soon…


  • Sam

    Ryan, this post really got me thinking. We usually become friends with people with whom we have something in common. Whether we went to the same school, have similar hobbies, like the same sports teams, or share the same outlook on life…there’s always something. So, maybe the underlying connection you look for in friends is ambition.

    I think it’s great that you’re so driven, and that you try to motivate your friends to make the most out of their lives. But, I don’t think that surrounding ourselves with equally ambitious people is what pushes us to succeed. No matter how much others empower us, when it comes down to it, we have to find motivation and desire within.

    Also, I have some friends who sound like the ones you describe, and some who haven’t made it as far in life. What matters most to me is their support, regardless of whether they’re striving for the same things. My advice: Just make sure you don’t miss out on an amazing friendship just because the person may not be as ambitious as you. Great post!


    admin Reply:

    @Sam – You’ve given me some great things to internalize. I think most of my friends have a lot of shared interests (e.g sports, cold beer, good music, etc.), but in terms of new friends – maybe ambition is part of the equation.

    I think you’re advice moving forward is great. I guess a lot of these comments boil down to our definitions of ambition. Like I said on Brazen, ambition can boil down to making just enough money and get off work at 5 to ensure you can spend tons of time with your family. That’s great. Ambition doesn’t necessarily = wanting to run a fortune 500 company. That said, there’s a big difference between that and someone who’s apathetic, 25 and lives at home on their parents couch because they can.


  • At risk of sounding like a “hippie”, I like having a balanced diet of different types of friends. It’s hard to chill out with people who are always focused on work and getting ahead. At least for me it is.

    I totally agree, however, that being around productive/ambitious people my age boosts my energy when it comes to going after my dreams. Also it’s easy for me to think that I have to be older/smarter/more educated before I can be successful. Seeing someone that “looks” like me (age and education-wise) “crushing it” really motivates me and helps get rid of all my excuses for why I’m not where I want to be.

    And you’re not an a–hole, you just want something different.


    admin Reply:

    @Marie – Really good insights into the “balance” of friends. A lot of my friends are like me, work hard, but once they clock out (particularly on weekends) it’s on. I think you’re right though – we do need to surround ourselves with different people to acquire all the types of interaction we’re looking for…

    I couldn’t agree more with your second point of emphasis. When I see someone like Charlie working on Ramit’s book launch and Tucker Max’s movie, or Matt pulling off the whole Inconvenience of Change series that makes me want to step up my game as well.


  • Carl

    The people that you surround yourself with do have an impact on everything in your life. Read the latest study on this subject get a copy of The Power of Self Separation and you will start to understand the forces that have pushed and pulled you all your life. This book is a new understanding of personal behavior.


  • I’ve run into this problem myself. I find myself gravitating towards those people who have similar ambitions to mine because I am slowly learning that I can’t live any other way. I can’t accept mediocrity and am willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to kick ass.

    I want to win. As a result my choices in friends has definitely evolved since college. Tend to roll with a much more entrepreneurial group of folks these days.


  • I think that who you surround yourself with says a lot about who you are and what you believe in. Political games aside (think idealistically!) think of the President’s Cabinet or Board of a Company/Non-Profit. These folks are chosen specifically for their skills, connections or ability to help the organization achieve the goals it has in place.

    Similarly, for ambition/success minded individuals, we have to be careful to select people for our cabinets and boards that will help us achieve our goals. This isn’t to say you can’t be friendly with those folks who might not share your drives and ideals, but they most likely will not be the inner circle that you go to for discussions on your hopes/dreams/challenges/heartaches. Like Marie, I have a lot of friends at different levels and places in their lives, I like to be able to hang out with folks of these different interests (keeps me well rounded) and a small circle that I would expose myself so much to. Course, I’m also commitment-phobic and a little scared to let people in, so this might not be the best advice. 🙂

    As an interesting note, a recent Live Science article just reported on the fact that you replace about half your friends every 7 years. Your post made me remember it:


  • I disagree with the point you are trying to make by saying that being friends with people who are less motivated will force you to become less motivated. If you are passionate enough about accomplishing certain goals, I don’t think that friends will stand in your way.

    Now it is important for me to make a distinction between friends who are unmotivated and friends who feel the need to “bring you back down.” The latter is much less of a friend because he/she feels the need to try to change who you are and your passions. A person who tries to change you is not a friend at all. I have also as you have said “pruned” those type of people from my life in order to become more successful.

    A person can be seen as unmotivated from one perspective and very motivated from another. One good example is exactly what we are doing right now with blogging. My grandparents might think that I am wasting my time discussing points with you and making updates to my website with no money coming in directly from my time. But if you are reading this post, you likely understand the personal branding, networking and boost in happiness that comes from maintaining a blog and commenting/conversing online with other bloggers.

    There are some nights, tomorrow included, that I will be out at a bar watching the Detroit Red Wings instead of inside working on posts. I will be out because I have made it a priority to cultivate friendships and will gladly delay a blog post a day or two in order to do that.


  • Nice post Ryan. I agree with the general idea of the post too. I personally have a few friends that have not done anything with their lives and are in their late 20s still just coasting along. We continue to be friends but slowly I have pushed them to the back burner…not necessarily because they were holding me back but because they just aren’t where I am in life.

    As for the hard work thing I think this quote goes a long way. It was told to me from a former boss who heard it from a friend.

    “I plan on learning as much as I can from 20-30, working as much and as hard as I can from 30-50, and then retiring and relaxing.”

    That is pretty much what I am doing. I have worked a few different jobs and have a very diverse range of experience and am making connections that will take me above and beyond where I am now.


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