Who are spending most of your time with these days?
Do you like them?
Do you respect them?
Are you inspired by them?
As a kid riding the bus to school, I remember admiring my watch. Another kid from my neighborhood, Thaddeus, asked if we could swap watches for the day. He had a cheap digital watch. Mine was a nice golden Guess watch with a leather strap. I said no. He insisted. It would just be temporary. Not interested. He kept pressing. Eventually, my tiny will was overcome. For a kid, a 30-minute bus ride is an eternity. I relented. He put on my watch, and I put on his.
The next day, I asked him to switch back. Nothing. Next bus ride. Nope. Some days he pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about. One day, he just stopped riding the bus. I was so angry… I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him! Thaddeus is a thief, and a liar!
The worst part about it was I only had it for a brief time. It was basically a new watch. I think it was the first time I had worn it since I stole it. Brian and I took watches from a display at Gwinnett Place mall maybe a few days prior. I kept the one for myself because I really liked how it looked.
As I balled my fists and berated myself silently for trusting Thaddeus, I remember being fed up because friends kept stealing from me. I was sick of being betrayed, and constantly having to watch my back. Then I remembered they were thieves. Then I remembered I was a thief. Was there a connection?
Years later, I would be in an office listening to disgruntled employees complaining about the same problems for the millionth time. They never had any solutions. They just bitched and bitched and bitched. I used to think I was superior to them. They were all pathetic. They were all losers. Of course, they probably thought the same of me. We were all probably right at the time.
The best versions of me are often surrounded by people I feel are smarter, more mature, more successful… just better than I am. I become a better version of myself. And if everyone in that circle feels the same way: mutual admiration, mutual inspiration, mutual support… then it’s a rising tide raising all boats.
As a teacher, I took time to break away and try to help others, surrounding myself with people in need. In those times, I often got lost again… thinking I had things figured out, forgetting much of my strength and confidence was borrowed. In the continuum of life, it’s essential to stay connected to the tide.
People are social animals, and systems are more powerful than individuals. In times of misery and self-doubt, it’s not a personal failure. Look at the people around. Would you trust them with a precious watch? If the answer is no… then maybe the system needs to be corrected.