Who am I?

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn

We have heard this before, that we are the average of the five people that we spend the most time with. When I recently encountered this quote again I decided to look at my past, who I am, and who I want to be. How these people I have spent the most time with have changed me throughout the years.

When I was young, I spent my childhood with my family. A range of parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. When you are young, you adapt traits and features from those in your immediate family, even going as far as subconsciously copying the same facial expressions. We do not fully get to create our own identities, to think about what we like, separate from our families, until around the age of 10.

Until about 14, I did not know what or who I wanted to be beyond what was presented to me. I was the oldest child of three, the third in a line of cousins. My closest cousin, about seven months older than me was my role model for much of my childhood. She could dress in style, taught me how to do my hair and shave my legs, she was the popular girl that I yearned to be. People would say, “you are related to so and so?!”

From ages 10 to 14 I was realizing that life is not all that peachy. That I did not like the community that I was living in. The people that I was spending the most time with had interests that I did not find appeasing (they were adamantly racist, with kids my age being bullies, and only concerned with drugs and alcohol). I yearned to get out of the influence of being around the very people that I was horrified that I would one day become.

I attended high school in a different district to escape homogenous atmosphere of where I was raised. I became solid friends with five other girls. Three right away, with the other two being added over the course of my second year. In high school you are just figuring out who you are, and what you want to become. Every miniscule decision affected great change, especially when teens are especially closed minded and judgmental.

If we wore black, we were goth or emo. We hung out by shopping at the same stores, seeing the same movies, and reading. We were the readers of our school. The go-getters. We followed each other into clubs and activities, we egged on teachers and others, and encouraged each other to learn more, to read more, to beat out each other. But being the same was our downfall. We tried to copy each other too much, to beat each other out in grades, or who hung out with who outside the group. As we became less anti-social outcasts and more social, the intersectionality of our group with others in the school split us down the middle. We went from advocating against drinking to individuals of our group drinking, something that we all felt would never happen, because we never wanted to be ‘those people’. We argued. Things that initially brought us to together, arguing, complaining, started to destroy who we were as people and how others perceived us.

When I was 18 I got a job in a diner. There was a core group that always went out together, that were there for each other. At a time when all my other relationships were fracturing, they held my life together. They taught me about drinking, (I still remember my lecture about not mixing alcohols), they taught me about sex (during a couple of drunken conversations in which they kept saying that they would regret having once they sobered up). They took my to family gatherings and included me in festivities. They taught me to say “behind you”, so much that even when I am gaining on someone walking down the sidewalk I will use the phrase. They taught me what really matters in life, that successful does not have to mean six figures or a fancy car, but in being around those who you love and enjoy spending time with.

But maybe they taught me to be harsh, too. When people got into screaming fights at home or in the kitchen at the diner I learned to be blunt. I learned that screaming was better than hitting or threatening, and that being passive was better than screaming. This has unfortunately stayed with me. I continually have to work on not being passive or letting things simmer under the service. Because for me, this is being respectful and professional, but not so much for others that I know who need to hash everything out.

From age 19–21 I learned to smile. I learned to have fun. I was at college, going through several different rounds of roommates and apartments. I realized after the fact that though I loved some of the people I was with, that I did not like the person that I was becoming when I was with them. I wanted to push myself forward instead of always pulling back, I needed to be more social and confident. I needed to worry about myself.

After a disastrous summer last year, of crashing on couches, and sleeping on overnight buses to and from my family’s house a state away, I crumbled. I had no idea of who I was anymore. My living arrangements and people I had spent the most time with had shattered. When I visited my family I was in a constant state of upheaval over all the tension of different members and opinions colliding. I became the confidant, the one everyone offloaded all their troubles and worries onto, and I absorbed it and could not figure out what to do with it all.

I also worked a lot. As my group at my summer job began to splinter and turn, it became an every man for themselves. Again, I did not like who I had become. I let my outside troubles dictate my personality and my relationships at work suffered.

Yet, during my 21st year I also faced tremendous kindness, encouragement, and growth. I started volunteering again, something I had not steadily done since high school. I found friends and mentors that I could look up to. For the first time in my life I was in informal relationships with people who had professions rather than trades. I was able to surround myself with kind people. People who read inspirational books and constantly challenged themselves to be better. Whether better at their job, smarter, more traveled, more fit, I finally found the group of people who I was able to look at and see where I wanted to be, who I wanted to be.

In my 22nd year, I once again met people my own age, something I had not done since high school. My five people can now range up to seven or ten. They are different ages, from 20 to late thirties. They are people I volunteer with, people I work with who I never thought I would like until one day we just clicked. Some are my age, some older. They are people who encourage me to be better, who ask about my hopes and my future. People who let me spend last summer crashing on their couches, people who have asked me to move in with them when they needed a new roommate. They have given me clothes and even a winter coat when I needed a new one, they have bought me drinks and food just because, have given me books, and even the other day, one of them surprised me with a chocolate bunny for Easter.

In Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith’s “person” was Christina, then when she moved away, it became Alex. Throughout the series, Meredith has had multiple conflicts with both Christina and Alex, but they were always there for each other when it came down to it. I had people growing up. I had groups and friendships that I thought were destined forever because we had a lot in common. I have come to realize, that the five people you spend the most time affect who you are and what you will become, but that does not mean that they are your ‘people’. I am appreciative of where I have been, because it has made me the person that I am today, and I am stronger for it all. But if you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and this will put you on a trajectory for who you will become, then what your future will be, matters today. Today you can decide the people you surround yourself with, who you will undoubtable become tomorrow.