“You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with.” I used to internalize this quote as a mantra for how I approached friendships.
People had to ‘bring value’ to me, or I would cut them off.
They had to have Bill Gates-level business acumen, or Gandhi-level character and virtues.
“I only demand the highest standards for myself” is what I would tell myself.
But now I see that I was using these ‘hustle culture’ quotes as a way to justify pushing people away, treating them terribly, and ignoring the work that has to be done - on myself, and on the friendships.
I also see where it has gotten me thus far - bitter, alone, unhappy.
I think we have to be careful with these quotes. “we become what we think.” So words have the power to influence, to change our world. Not just words, but more like our belief in their truth. ‘You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with’ is a helpful quote for those who are stuck with truly toxic groups of friends, for those who feel helpless to change their situation, who stay overly attached.
It is certainly NOT going to be helpful for someone who has good friends, who feels empowered to change, and who are avoidantly attached. aka me.
Because it would just blind me to my weaknesses, and worse of all, blind me to the good things in my life - warping my worldview to see them as bad things instead. Or rather, ‘not good enough’ things.
The 4 ‘C’s
In my previous blog entry, I talked about managing expectations as the cornerstone for ensuring a baseline level of happiness.
Yet, in the longest running study on human happiness done by Harvard, researchers found that the single predictor of happiness is the quality of our relationships.
And by relationships they don’t just mean romantic ones, but deep, meaningful friendships too.
But knowing this in theory and executing it in practice is worlds apart.
Admittedly, forming and sustaining long term quality connections has not been my strong suit.
So this framework is here to help strengthen it.
This is a concept I first heard from Jay Shetty, on his podcast ‘On Purpose’.
The idea is: everyone who comes into our lives brings a gift. This gift typically falls into one of these 4 categories: Character, Competence, Care and Consistency.
Character - this person has a solid moral compass, has character traits that you want to emulate. They are a role model for you in this way. They may not be the most successful, or even the most caring (specifically to you), or the person who shows up the most consistently (again, specifically for you), but you have this admiration for their person, for their ethos.
What I’ve noticed is the people who bring this gift tend to be more spiritual, more guided by their beliefs. And this applies not just to those who join organized religions - I’ve met plenty of ‘good character’ peeps who are non-religious but hold themselves to a strong set of values. I’ll talk about religion in a subsequent blog entry, but I’ve come to see virtues and values as being universal ideals that everyone agrees makes a good person.
Competence - this is most often the kind of people we think of for the ‘average of 5 people’ quote. People who are good at their craft - good investors, businessmen, good naval officers, good leaders, strong martial artists, fitness trainers, writers, designers. The gift they bring is the knowledge they share, the habits they have that got them to where they are today. The whole excitement of ‘networking events’ is precisely to meet other people who are deemed competent. We humans became the apex predator on Earth because we came together, cooperated, and shared our wisdom with our peers and with the generations that came after us. So even though this gift tends to get a lot of flak for being ‘transactional’, it is still a beautiful and important gift.
Care - the first person that came to mind for this category for me was my mom. Someone who deeply cares for me, and demonstrates that clearly. Someone who will listen, who will drop whatever they are doing to attend to your needs, even if you have nothing to offer in return. You may not talk to them very often, but there is a strong level of care and love that persists through the periods of time apart. What is so precious about this gift is its personal, individual, unique nature. For the previous two, people who are strong in character and competence tend to give that gift to a lot of people - if you are at the top of your game, plenty of others will want to emulate you. But caring deeply about someone - that is something you can only give to a few people. To do so, you need an intimate understanding of their person, their flaws and fears, to love them in spite of these imperfections, or even for them. So if you identify people in your life who bring this gift, treasure it, because it is rare and doesn’t come easy.
Consistency - these would be the friends you talk to and hang out with often. For example, I see my present colleagues in this category (some colleagues would fall into the ‘competence’ category too) - people I see often, who know what's going on in my day-to-day life. I suppose neighbours and people who share the same hobbies as you could fall into this category too. And the gift here is their presence. Whether by choice or by circumstance, the fact is, you are spending a lot of time together, and time is an important gift. It is all we have, after all. How I look at this is: people who are consistent for you mostly tend to be a result of circumstance - primary school friends that we used to be super close to, but now we have gone our separate ways, or neighbours who have moved out, etc. Where this gift shines through is for those who choose to show up consistently for you, despite circumstances not being ideal.
Occasionally, someone comes along who has 2 or even 3 of these gifts, but its nearly impossible to have someone give all 4. The problem is, we tend to take these gifts for granted and instead look at the places that they are lacking in. We come to expect the people in our lives to have everything. To bring everything.
But that is simply not realistic.
And in a way, this goes back to my previous entry, about expectations. If you expect your friends to give you everything, you are only setting yourself up for misery. For disappointment. But if you expect them to come as they are, the world will be aligned with your expectations. With the 4 ‘C’s framework, we are developing an eye for seeing the gifts in others. Training that ‘positivity muscle’.
I used to look at a group of friends I’ve had for a long time, and lament on why things aren’t the same now as they were before. “we used to be so much closer, we used to be able to talk all day, about anything in the world. Now it seems like everyone’s changed, and moved on.”
Chief in that was probably me - having gone overseas, lived a very different life, and now coming back to adjust and reconnect. I thought that I was ‘better’ than them, more ‘worldly’, more ‘woke’. I kept thinking, ‘why can’t this group of friends be more like my overseas friends? go-getters, entrepreneurs, personal growth enthusiasts?’
The thing is, all this time while I had these thoughts in my head, this group has been consistently keeping up the friendship - checking in, organizing hangouts, socials.
So its just me.
Nobody else saw any ‘problem’ here.
Now I realize that indeed there is no problem. Truly.
I realize that they brought a gift into my life - Consistency. They are always there for me, they know what I’m up to in my day-to-day life, we enjoy simple cheap thrills and good meals together. Sure, maybe they don’t possess Elon Musk-level business acumen, or Gandhi-level character, or Care for me as much as my mom does, but I know that they are there if I need them.
For me, Consistency has been the gift I’ve taken most for granted, the gift I’ve never seen as a gift before. I used to think that if someone is readily available for me, it means one of two things: 1) that they have nothing better to do with their lives, or 2) that they are just here to get something out of me and then leave.
Now I’ve come to realize that the gift of Consistency is an amazing one: they think about me often, they want to be present in my life, want me to be present in theirs, and they demonstrate this clearly. They have the courage to ask for it, and are willing to give it.
Here’s the kicker - I asked myself: what gift do I bring to them?
What do they see in me? And I ask this not in like a ‘I need validation from external sources’ kinda way. I’m genuinely curious about their perception of me, and how I can show up better for them. You see, if I think that the main gift I bring is Competence, then I would show up more as a business or expert advisor. But it could be that they see me for the consistency I bring. Then we would have a mismatch, wouldn’t we?
People don’t just drop into your life, perfect as is. You may click and form a connection easier with some than others, but good friendships take time and effort to build.
The building goes two ways - you show up bringing your gifts, being authentically who you are, but committing to creating something here. At the same time, it is only human to seek good people in our lives, people who make life better. As altruistic or Zen as it may be to love everyone unconditionally, I’d rather we start realistically, and take it one step at a time from where we are now.
For me, the first step is to recognize the gifts that others bring to my life - the idea being, if I can prime myself to see these more, I would naturally want to reciprocate more too. If I couldn’t see the gifts they brought, or I took it for granted, then after awhile it would get disheartening for me to give back too.
That being said, if you really can’t find the gift that someone brings into your life, no matter how hard you try to find it, then letting them go might not be such a bad idea. My problem tends to be the opposite (i.e. letting go too easily), hence this blog entry.
If you’ve found this 4 ‘C’s framework useful, let me know! or share it with someone who it might help too! I’d also love to hear your thoughts on changing/improving this framework, or if you have your own way of approaching friendships!
And if you’ve made it all the way here, thank you!