You can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. There’s a saying that goes something like: You become the average of the six people that you spend the most time with.
If you look at your professional company -- the other co-workers, colleagues, business owners and industry professionals that you most often interact with -- who are they, what do they stand for and what do they say about you?
How is your circle influencing you?
Where do you stand among your professional peers? Are you always the leader of the pack or are you making sure to surround yourself with people who will push you to be your best?
Related: Stop Waiting for the Mythical Mentor
When you play tennis, the best way to improve your own game is to play with someone superior to you. This allows you to rise to the challenge of bringing your play up to the other player’s level, rather than holding back. Even if you are evenly matched with a competitor, it can be hard for you to improve.
When I learn a new skill or enter a new arena, I seek out the people at the highest level. Sometimes, this means paying for that privilege. When I trained with The Second City (the famed comedy and improvisational school that is known as the breeding ground for SNL, etc.), I had a few options. I could have started with the beginner class, but that would have made me work at the pace of the slowest learner, as the group can only go that quickly. Instead, I opted for a more efficient, albeit effective, option. I chose a custom program where I was the only student and my counterparts were the professional troupe members. This meant that I was the slowest one in the room and I had to jump in the deep end and swim with all of my might to keep up with them.
Getting to the next level
Can the people around you provide you with the opportunities you are looking for and get you to the next level? If you are only networking, masterminding and interacting with those at your level who have the same types of contacts, they may not be able to push you to step up to the next level, and they will unlikely be able to refer you to those next level opportunities that you seek.
I see it as a challenge, particularly for women who stick to women’s-only networking groups. While these groups have value, sometimes the women are missing the opportunity to connect with those individuals (which include men in higher positions) who can help recommend them for new opportunities.
Paying it forward
You can’t always be the student, so when you can, remember that there are others than can benefit from your guidance. As you improve your tennis skills, let a novice play with you from time to time to get exposure. Pay it forward, as there will always be more to learn and more to give.