Do you believe you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with? Here’s why it’s bogus and what matters instead


Jim Rohn’s famous quote is a common platitude spouted by various growth/development gurus these days. Want to improve your life? Then uplevel the type of people you spend time around because you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. 

I like that as a concept. It encourages us entrepreneurs to think critically about where to deploy our precious time. It’s important to spend time around people who are optimists and go getters; people who are more successful than we are; people who have what we desire. 

But if business owners really believed this equation to be true, then people with hugely positive outlooks and massive influence would not spend much time with people less successful than them because it would, like, bring down their average. 

How would you explain when a famous entrepreneur takes an interest in a fledgling company and its CEO? Or when a startup founder manages to snag a big name board member? 

Clearly the investors and Richard Bransons of the world don't mind spending time with people not at their level. And are you planning to ditch your friends/partner as you uplevel your own business? 

While it's great to surround yourself with likeminded people, I think this little nugget about the average five is missing something. And that little something is called ecosystem. 

Think of our environment- the ocean to be specific. When you overfish one species, the entire ecosystem is in danger because the populations are thrown off. The ocean needs the big predators (sharks) as well as the tiny plankton in order to maintain balance and to thrive. If one of them suffers, then all of them suffer. 

Personal and professional ecosystems are the same way. You need a variety of “species” in your ecosystem for it to be truly vibrant. If you just know a whole bunch of other owners of dry cleaners, who is going to repair your shoes? If you only know other founders of startups, who is going to fund your next round? 

Healthy ecosystems should include all kinds of people from support staff and industry leaders to subject matter experts and, yes, dry cleaners and angel investors. 

Your business thrives when your ecosystem is diverse! 

As for the five people you spend time around, I think it’s important to have peers who are experiencing growing pains similar to you, people who encourage you no matter what, pragmatists who ask the tough questions, and those who inspire you because of the changes they’re making in the world. They might be “above” or “below” you in the ecosystem but how they support you and the value they bring to you and your life (and vice versa) are far more important factors than whether or not they increase your average. 

As you grow, your ecosystem will grow and change too- and that’s a good thing! Unlike nature’s ecosystems, our capacity to expand and create is never-ending- so your attention to your ecosystem should reflect that. 

Don’t worry about the five people you spend time around. Cultivate your ecosystem with integrity and eventually you’re going to be a big fish no matter what. 

Want more? Come back tomorrow for my next post about ecosystems! 

Ready to dive in? Join me for a three part master class on building your ecosystem.