There’s an old saying that we are the sum of the five people we hang around with the most.
The idea is that those in our inner circle have the ability to shape and influence our thoughts, thinking and behaviours. Which makes sense, right?
This is why it’s important to have people and build relationships that enable you to thrive in life. No matter if that’s personally or professionally.
I find this never feels as important in your 20s as life is moving fast. But, from our 30s and beyond, our relationships become the key foundation to our long-term success.
This is where most people struggle.
We fail to recognise that often what holds us back are some of the relationships around us. Even worse, we continue to invest in them because we believe we should from a moral standpoint even though they make us miserable.
The relationship matrix
Let’s explore the four different types of relationships that exist in each of our worlds.
This is the person you decide to unite with in a deeply intimate relationship. They are an integral pillar in your ability to do well in the game of life.
These are the people who you may have common interests with. Friendships often come around like seasons. Some stay forever whereas others are fleeting.
These are people who are neither intimate companions nor those who share common interests or values with you. They are often in the background scenery in the story of your life.
These are a mixture of the people that raised you and any siblings you grew up with. We don’t determine our early experiences with these relationships, yet we have full control over how they affect us in later life.
Why each of these is key to our success
I’m using the word success here as a metric in both our personal and professional lives.
The definition of success will be different for each of us, thus the guidance here is to align with whatever that version of success is for you.
Let’s explore each of our four relationships in detail.
Often referred to as the bedrock of our personal life.
Who we choose to partner with on the rollercoaster of life is one of the most important decisions we’ll make. In my home country of the UK, the average divorce rate is 42%, which is pretty high.
Do note that you don’t need to be married to be in a partnership.
A partnership is a signal of a few things:
- You share common values.
- You can co-exist and build a life together that benefits both.
- You recognise it’s not about ‘me’ but ‘we’.
- This person is someone who you want to support, love and see succeed, and vice-versa.
- You’re happy to share all resources to build a better life together.
You might know people who are in a relationship but are not with a partner.
A partner is an equal in the journey of life. Not everyone is in a partnership of equality that hits all the above points. This is important to recognise. As the key relationship to future success and health, this is the most crucial one to invest in.
Hence why we often hear people say “don’t settle”.
What they’re really saying is your current choice is not providing the same inputs as you are, thus stopping both of you from being at your best and nurturing a supportive environment where both can equally thrive.
Partnerships can last a lifetime and will navigate the most difficult experiences during this time.
So, choosing who you partner with is the single greatest decision you’ll ever make. They will shape and influence everything you do. I can’t overstate the effect it can have on your ability to thrive and be successful.
Please be choosy.
Often the layer between your partner and family.
These are the people who serve different purposes at different times. Some have friends for life, whilst others have friends for seasons and some choose none at all.
Each of our choices to pursue a friendship is a deeply personal one, so on this, I cannot advise.
We can explore the different levels of friendships and the ones in which we should invest vs. the ones we should exit at all costs. The meaning of friendship does evolve over time, I find.
In our 20s (perhaps the more carefree years) friends are those we often choose to align with to experience the world, waste time in it and generally exist.
Some of us build long-lasting friendships from these and some don’t.
Not all friendships that were once beautiful stay that way, which is normal. Many people who were once inseparable cannot stand the sight of each other. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
We get old, views change, values change and we change.
Friendships are easier to choose and exit than partnerships. They are the second level in our matrix as they often provide aspects that a partnership cannot fulfil. Mainly venting about said partnership without fear of extreme repercussions (venting is healthy, friends).
They also enable knowledge exchange and many moments of growth. The right friends can share different points of view and enable you to see the world, your worries and your troubles through a different lens.
The friendships we want are the ones built upon support, trust and protection.
Now, the flipside to this is friendships we wish to avoid. Many of us make the mistake of hanging onto and investing in friendships that we no are no longer healthy for us. Emotions can be a very fickle thing to deal with.
Either we know or have experienced a toxic friendship at some point (or will do).
These are people who do not share the same values, integrity or respect for others and the world as we do now. But, we continue to invest in the friendship because we’ve known them for so long.
This is a dangerous thing to do.
We’ve spoken about how we feel, think and experience the world being influenced by the sum of the 5 closest people around us. If someone in that circle is damaging to you, how do you think that will affect you?
Choose your friends wisely.
This is a roaming layer in the relationship matrix.
The Oxford Dictionary defines an acquaintance as “a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.” I often view these as people who are in the background of our story.
You know not much about them, just that they were there at times.
These are people who have become an acquaintance because we simply share no common interests or values. Typically, they are friends of friends who we either tolerate or accept to be part of our tribe.
Often they can be harmless as interactions may be few and far between. Yet, on occasion, they can be incredibly hurtful to our ecosystem.
Much like with our 2 levels before in partnerships and friendships. Those that sit within the acquaintance level have the opportunity to affect our thoughts and feeling, even from afar.
I’m sure we’ve either experienced it directly or heard a story from a friend about the nuisance of an acquaintance.
You may not have direct contact with them frequently. But, if they’re like a bull in a china shop every time you inhabit the same environment, this can make life and the effect of those interactions quite deadly.
On the other hand, many acquaintances can be pleasant and at times add to the experience of life with differing points of view and knowledge to share.
Don’t underestimate the effect an acquaintance can have though.
I imagine you’re wondering why family sits at the bottom layer of the matrix.
As we don’t get to choose who are family is and the experiences we have with them in our early existence, we have the least influence on changing this scenario. So, family is the entry we cannot control and must learn to live with and navigate accordingly.
For some, family life is wonderful and for others, it is the worse of times.
Everyone has a story about their family and growing up. I bet floods of them are coming to you now as you read these words. As we don’t get to choose our experience here, or who we get in this lottery, we have to do the best with what we get.
For those who have a functioning and generally good family, life is good.
I mean all families fight, fallout and have all manner of drama but on the whole, their shared values unite them. However, others aren’t as lucky.
Our formative years are spent with the family we’ve been dropped into. These people have a huge effect on how we form our experiences and interactions in the world. Their beliefs and values often become yours. Not through choice, just because you know nothing else.
This doesn’t always serve us well.
Many of us are held prisoner by the thoughts and opinions of our family (whether they really exist or not is another question). This is one of life’s greatest challenges to succeeding in the game of life. Do what others want or deem right or what you wish.
As we age and move out of our family unit as our biggest ecosystem, we have much more control over how we navigate this relationship.
Some continue to thrive and always want to be in it. Some exit it completely looking to get as far from it as possible and others do their best to manage it in the sphere of their own tolerance.
We often have to make tough choices with family when we pursue partnerships with a significant other and any future family of our own.
Although many of us love our families in different ways, they all require some form of management. Here we have many choices on how to invest in this relationship. I can’t give you a guide to that I’m afraid, that’s something you’ll need to define on your own.
Assess your relationship matrix
Relationships on all 4 levels are the key that enables us to unlock health, success and those oh-so-precious fleeting moments of happiness.
Give them the time they deserve to ensure not only you, but those around you can be at their best. Relationships are two-way streets where each of us can serve the other.
Make sure you invest in the right ones.
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