The People Around You Shape Who You Are

October 30, 2019
Who you are is a product of a complex equation involving many different variables. One of the most important variables is the people around you.

Although it’s easy to believe that you have control over who you are, the people around you profoundly shape who you are. There are no “neutral” environments or surroundings. Other people’s words and actions have an influence over you. It would be nice to think that all of that influence is positive and inspiring, but the reality is that it’s often the opposite.

In personal development literature and in the world of inspirational quotes that flood social media, one common message is that you should always surround yourself with people who make you happy, empower you, and inspire you. Although this sounds great, it’s rarely possible for practical reasons.

Each and every person is a product of those who raised and educated them. You’re the product of your interactions with people you meet at school, university, and your job. Since it’s impossible to control everyone you come into contact with, you’ll inevitably interact with people you don’t like at all.

Thus, whether the experience teaches you how to deal with people who make you uncomfortable or it just makes you miserable, those interactions and experiences shape who you are. Consequently, all of the people in your life, past and present, paint a complex but beautiful canvas that forms the backdrop of who you are.

“Dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you aren’t and to believe in your own individuality.”

-Henri-Frédéric Amiel-

A group of friends holding hands on the beach.

The people around you shape who you are

Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author of some well-known self-help books about motivation, happiness, and leadership, believes that who you are is the result of the five people you spend the most time with. Although you probably immediately think of your close friends and family, the reality is that they aren’t always the ones you spend most of your time with.

If you work outside your home, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time at your job. That means your coworkers and bosses have a significant influence on your mood.

Another thing that’s easy to overlook also impacts your well-being. Over the course of the day, you divide your time into multiple scenarios that aren’t always good for your mental or physical health. Sometimes, your day involves running from home, to work, to the gym, to class, and to the store. You spend your time with people you get along well with and people you don’t. Living at that pace leads you to build up a lot of stress you aren’t always aware of.

A study from the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore shows that although well-being is subjective, people report greater happiness when they spend their time with fewer, more significant people.

The people around you condition who you are

Therefore, it’s clear that the people around you influence who you are because they’re part of the surroundings you have to adapt to. This happens a lot at the familial level. You’re a piece of the machine your parents are building, you work as a part of the rest of the machine.

The advice they give you defines you, along with their rules, lectures, silence, and expectations. This also happens in romantic relationships. People often internalize their significant other’s traits without even realizing it.

Friends and family shape who you are.

Carefully choose who you want to share your life with

Seneca said that life is like a play, where the excellence of the acting is what matters. We’ll add another point to this wise message, which is that you aren’t acting alone in your life play. Other actors are on stage with you, and it’s up to you to decide if you’ll be the main character.

You can’t always choose your family, but you have the power to decide who to have contact with. You can’t “deactivate” annoying friends, neighbors, and coworkers, but you can learn to live with them and establish boundaries. Don’t let their behavior have any power over you. Don’t let them shape who you are.

Lastly, you do have some degree of choice about who you let into your life. Surrounding yourself with good people isn’t an art, it’s a necessity. Having friends and family who inspire you and help you be your best self isn’t a gift, it’s a privilege. Be grateful for it every day.