If you can’t change the people around you…

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This has been a week of sadness and joy for me. Let me explain. Within a ten day period three people I knew died, one from unexplained causes, one from cancer and one from Alzheimer’s. Due to my travel schedule, I could only attend one of the funerals, but I know what I saw that day would have been the same at each service.

Sitting in the packed church for the service, I was struck by the outpouring of love that left a 500-plus seat auditorium only with standing room for those who came to support the family and recall their memory of this sweet soul who had passed away. As I looked around, for some reason, this phrase popped into my head,

If you can’t change the people around you…change the people around you.

I am not going dwell on the idea of death and loss, but I do want to remind you that you are the company you keep, and your friends are a reflection of you in every sense of the word. It goes well beyond how you think you position yourself to those you associate with because, in the end, the truth of who you really are is shown by your associations.

In an article by Marian Salzman found in Forbes magazine, she states that, “Personal branding is the name of the game these days, and in our age of radical transparency it is informed not just by how you present yourself but also by the people you associate with. Just as product- and service-based brands have to choose their celebrity ambassadors carefully, individuals looking to up their personal clout should be aware that others will form opinions of them based on their associates.”

With that in mind, and as I reflect on the loss of some very special people, let me give you a few reasons as to why who you hang out with matters more than you know or are willing to admit.

You know that people are quick to judge. If others see that you keep company with mean, angry, snarky friends, most of them will likely avoid you because of the appearance that is portrayed by your “friends.” Ever wonder why your successful friends and associates aren’t so interested in having you around? Because they know you are a reflection of your loser friends, and they don’t want to be a reflection of those kinds of people. Why? Because, like it or not, people are quick to judge and most judge harshly and quickly.

The fact is that people will also perceive you based on the actions of the people you associate with. If the old saying is true that birds of a feather flock together, then you’re not much more than a sitting duck for someone to assume a wrong impression of you. We are a fast-moving, shallow society that is in a hurry to go anywhere fast, so no one is going to slow down and take time to figure out the depth of your associations. Understanding that at a quick glance you are the company you keep, that should make you ponder the outside influences that you are being judged by. Friend, realize that you are judged by the actions of others. You don’t have to hang out with them all the time to be linked with them, but by association their actions are your problem.

The assumption is that the people you surround yourself with are a reflection of your personal values. Frankly, when it comes to values, no one has the time or interest to dig too deep to know your true heart and what you stand for; this is why you need to consider your reflection to those who are watching you, because you do great damage when you choose to link yourself with people who others do not take at face value.

When it comes to a reflection of your personal values, this quote sums it up, “It is better to be alone than in the wrong company. Tell me who your best friends are and I will tell you who you are. If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl but if you associate with eagles you will learn how to soar to great heights.”

Some reading this are probably thinking that it is other people’s problem if they choose to judge you by your friends and associates. In a perfect world you might be right, but in today’s world of social media connections and executive hustle, you might want to rethink that idea if you plan to excel in your job, your community or with your desired peer group.

Whether you like it or not, by association, you’ve been branded, and before it is too late, I would ask that you reconsider your frustration by association and do something about it for your future and your other friends and associates who are the good ones and who don’t deserve a mark against their name and reputation by your snarky posse.

I know this isn’t a topic you hear much about these days and most people don’t butt into your business or call you out as it appears, but I am doing so here, so I hope you’ll understand that I was overwhelmed with concern, because this week I was reminded that your friends reflect your values.

It’s a funny thing about writing a newsletter–I cannot tell you week-to-week what will strike me to write about. Sometimes it is recollection of a memory of a client meeting or a comment by a friend. More often than not, I usually sit in front of my computer and say a prayer for guidance, and usually an idea will come into my head. I pray that I have the wisdom to write about it well, but this time the idea was so obvious to me, when I looked around the church and saw the standing room only friends of the deceased, that all I could think of was that we were a reflection of her values and her associations in life.

When I looked around and saw all the people near me, I knew I was in the right place with the right people; it was apparent because I was surrounded by like-minded civic leaders, community trail-blazers and upstanding citizens, all here to pay respects to this gentle soul. Sitting and standing, we were a reflection of her by association, and I will say that it was a wonderful feeling to know that we all loved and respected the same friend.

Edmund Lee once said, “Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”

I believe that is a fitting tribute to those friends who passed away this week. I saw greatness in them and I purposefully surrounded them to be a part of their network of dreamers and doers, believers and thinkers because they were who I wanted to reflect in my life.

Before I close, let me assure you that I only want what is best for you. Telling, asking, even cajoling you to consider the company you keep is because it is hard to shake a bad reputation these days. Social media will keep your mistakes front and center with every Google search of your name until the end of time. But the key is this, you must make a choice to either change the people around you, or do nothing, and the choice will be made for you.

So, please, heed this warning from a friend, If you can’t change the people around you…change the people around you.

Deb Sofield

Deb Sofield is a Keynote Speaker, Author of the book, Speak without Fear – Rock Star Presentation Skills to get People to Hear What You Say and Encouragement For Your Life ~ Tough Love Memos to Help You Fight Your Battles and Change the World, Radio Talk Show Host in the Salem Network, Podcaster and President of her own Executive Speech Coaching Co., which trains women and men for success in speaking, crisis communications, presentation skills, media and message development in the U.S. and abroad.

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