Questioning the ‘five-people’ advice of Jim Rohn

Photo: Duy Pham via Unsplash

Spoiler alert: I reveal part of the conclusion to an episode of Psych below after wholeheartedly recommending the series.

The first time I showed up, he did this thing with his arms across the room. Each one was raised up, horizontal at his side, fingers outstretched. He just left them there. Big smile on his face.

He wanted a hug.

Between grown men, hugs are rare. In the workplace, even rarer. Even more unique, I had just shown up at my new job, and he was my boss.

Thus began a yearlong adventure investigating a worldwide money laundering operation. Thus began my education in how to be Jesus.

Okay, okay. I’m sure José, who I now consider a friend, would bristle at me comparing him to Jesus. And this isn’t a religious blog. So stick with me.

I’ve recently been devouring “FIRE” podcasts.[1] This whole area is worth another post, but I was surprised to hear an episode of the ChooseFI podcast called “Choose Your Five.” On it, the hosts repeated the oft cited advice to choose those around you wisely.

I think most podcast listeners know by now that it was Jim Rohn (not Jim Rome!) who said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I believe there is a lot of wisdom in that. After all, we are social animals who make 90% or more of our decisions without thinking.

During lockdown last year and thanks to my girlfriend, I discovered the show Psych. [2] In an episode I saw recently titled “Santabarbaratown” (an homage to the Jack Nicholson movie Chinatown), we learn that much of the police force decades beforehand had been ‘on the take.’

One of the many epic Psych dancing moments

I found myself thinking how easy it had been for the last guy to take a bribe compared to the first guy. Succeeding cops who took money from criminals created a kind of network effect, making it more likely others would join. A kind of peer pressure in motion.

So Mr. Rohn has a point. (He’s actually long dead, but you get it.) 

But is it possible for someone to have a goal so noble, to be so dedicated to others’ wellbeing, that she is not so swayed by others?

In many ways this is what our heroes and religious figures embodied. It is more than just not caring about what others think. Those who occupy our modern pantheon did not need others to focus their mind. Nor did those other minds drag them down.

More surprisingly, most of them did it without being a total recluse, founding a cult, or joining a convent.[3] We wouldn’t know about a lot of them if they had shuttered themselves. And in a way, we admire such heroes precisely because of the impact they had on real people. It is hard to have such an impact if you remain aloof, unspoiled by encounters with the common man.

What do you do if you’re a young Elon Musk wanting to be today’s Elon Musk but there are no other Elon Musks around?

I suggest that you need to create and nurture an internal fire a la Napoleon Hill, motivation so strong that it cuts through the social harnesses that a “weak 5” might create.

You could also turn the greatest thinkers in history, the ones who resonate with you, into your closest friends.

Or you could embrace a mission so good and powerful that it makes people the end in itself. This unique stance, one of complete human compassion, might create an independence unto itself. One that makes you immune to negativity or low ambitions.

In this paradigm no one is better or worse than the five around you. They are raw human energy that powers the machine of you.

The new you. Completely redesigned. Powered by hugs.

All the way wet (aka the footnotes)

[1] If you don’t know what “FIRE” is yet, the “financial independence, retire early” movement has blown up over recent years. Regardless of where you are on your financial journey, it’s worth diving in to this content. Most people will point to the [Mr. Money Mustache blog] as a great place to start. The FIRE mentality flips much of personal finance on its head and can provide a much needed gut check for what is important in your life.

[2] Psych may take some warming up but is totally worth it. If one episode doesn’t hit, try at least one more. The characters, banter, cameos of C-list celebrities, and 90s references really grow on you, and the show itself creates a growing web of references that make it even funnier as the episodes go on. I admit the title and concept seemed so childish to me when Psych was airing that I never even gave it a try despite being shown commercials all the time.

[3] Maybe I’m wrong on the cult point. Do people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk start cults of their own in the companies they build? Do they reinforce who they aspire to be through who they hire and, thus, make their aspirations of self-actualization more likely?