“You Are the Average of the Five People You Associate With”

Even before I started playing badminton, I was a fan of writer/podcaster/life hacker Tim Ferriss. His thing is to interview world class performers in all fields, and ask them about their habits, routines, etc., so that others can learn from them.

I’ve picked up a lot of wisdom from his podcast over the years, but one thing that stuck with me was “You are the average of the five people you associate with.” It’s no secret that your friends influence you, and I’ve always tried to surround myself with vibrant, interesting people so that by process of osmosis I too would be vibrant and interesting.

When I started getting serious about badminton, I remembered this maxim and tried to follow it. If I want to be good, then I need to surround myself with the best.

The only problem is “the best” doesn’t want to waste time with beginners. When I was just starting out how could I get top players to play with me? I figured out that to be surrounded by the best, I would need to offer them something.

The easiest thing to offer is money. Which is how I found my coach. If we were just playing at the same court he wouldn’t have ever looked at me. But for cash he would happily train me.

But to get more than just training out of him, I would need to offer him more. The only thing of value I had was my dedication. I never skipped a training, never asked for breaks, never refused a directive. I showed up early, always went to clean up the birdies, even when I was gasping for breath, and stayed after class training by myself.

As a result, he realized how serious I was and introduced to more and more people.  So I had more chances to surround myself with the best people. When I found someone higher than me, who seemed willing to help me, I kinda clung to them. About one year ago I wrote about my doubles partner Xiao Jiang who helped me focus on my thinking. He helped a ton and sometimes I still hear his “hit to the open places” echoing in my head. But I haven’t seen him in months. Last time we played together I outclassed him completely and he knew it. He couldn’t offer any guidance or coaching because I was playing at a higher level than him.

Which brings me to another, more ruthless aspect of this idea. If I am the sum of five people, just five, then I must be vigilant about who these five are. I can’t have dead weight.

I don’t need to be best friends with badminton players. I need people who always strive to improve themselves and can push me as well.

Like my former group of foreigners. Personally I like them a lot. We are closer and better friends than people in my current badminton club. Yet I jettisoned them from my playing schedule. They are at a lower level and while I am not quite yet miles above them, it know it’s not a good idea to play with them regularly. Also, we are almost too friendly. You know how friends are: sarcastic and funny. And I’m a big talker so they all like to cut my down a peg, as I like to do with them. And when we are hanging out and doing things it’s fine and fun.

But in badminton it’s not.

I have too much going against me. I’m too old, I have no athletic experience and I have the completely wrong body type. I need people who recognize and address my flaws, but then help me rise above them. I need people who believe in me and tell me they believe in me. My confidence is a tank with many holes. I need other people to help me recognize the ability in myself so I can plug up the holes and try to fill the tank myself. My friends don’t do that so cut, cut, cut.

I know this makes me sound a bit ruthless and cold. And maybe I am. If I was a society climber, it would make me the worst kind of person. But I have a goal I am working towards, and to do that I need to surround myself with the best people. After all, as David Schwartz wrote in The Magic of Thinking Big.

Experts agree that the person you are today your personality, ambitions, present status in life, are largely the result of your psychological environment. And experts agree also that the person you will be one, five, ten, twenty years from now depends almost entirely on your future environment.”

I’m not just transforming myself from a beginner to an expert. I’m transforming myself from an “middle-aged dumpy writer” to “an athlete at the peak of my game.” I don’t just need to learn a few skills and tactics. I need to completely overhaul my way of thinking and seeing the world. And to do that I need to surround myself with people who also see and believe in Becky the elite athlete. They are the ones who have done it before me so they know I can too. I need people to expect the best in me and push me towards it.

So I might be a bit ruthless in my “top 5” in my badminton life. But I have a goal, and I want to achieve it.

What about you? Who are the five people you associate with and are they helping you become the person/badminton player you want to be? Or are they holding you back?

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