As quoted by American motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” To some, this number may seem like a breath of fresh air—kudos to you! To others, this is more of a nightmare than anything else. But don’t fret, nothing in life is set in stone.
You are the average of the five people
you spend the most time with
Rohn implies that what little individual consciousness we have is easily influenced by the people around us, even to the point of losing our own identity. The English term is “peer pressure”.
In the beginning, social reproduction referred to the social phenomenon of “intergenerational social immobility”. Many countries throughout the world experience the same thing, even in Western countries that are supposed to be the most developed and free. But let’s take a closer look at the situation in France, specifically that surrounding career choice. As in many cultures around the world, we are strongly influenced by our parents in choosing the educational path that will lead to a certain profession. After that, comes the pressure of the education system itself. The majority of our career pathways are single disciplinary, meaning that once we’ve committed to a course of study, it’s very difficult to explore any other options later on.
Thus we look with envy at the American system, which, despite being much more expensive, allows students to choose a major such as “Business” with a minor in “Screenwriting”. Later, that student is free to admit that they may have chosen the wrong major and simply replace Business with Political Science or Criminology. All of this takes place in an environment which encourages self-exploration and the understanding of one’s desires, and so we find doctor-musicians, producer-sociologists, and mathematician-authors. By expanding the available opportunities for personal fulfilment, this automatically lends great diversity to the five-person circle. Individuals can then construct their world-view together with others who have quite diverse experiences and outlooks on life.
The right way of living
In France, the scope is much more limited: legal students will find themselves almost exclusively spending time with their fellow legal students and it’s the same for doctors, architects, engineers, and teachers. All this leaves us with five peers sharing the same educational and socio-economic background. This leads to a restrictive definition of happiness and success that we soon feel looming over us as we attempt to master our own fate and find that which makes us happy in professional and personal life.
- Medical students have to choose a particular set of specialities if they wish to be well-paid;
- Law students have to specialise in certain areas if they want to take the most prestigious cases;
- The golden paths in business schools are consulting and finance;
- Students of even the most distinguished educational institutions must obtain a doctorate in order to be respected.
Even beyond the professional aspect, we find that the “right” way of living, happiness, and success, is pre-defined for us: where we hang out, which bars/clubs/restaurants we go to, when we should or shouldn’t buy property, get married, or have children—and the list goes on! All this to be pigeon-holed into a job and a life that we chose at the ripe old age of 18. It takes courage and strength to be a black sheep in such an environment.
A lawyer, a doctor, a comedian, an artist & a yogi
There I was, at 27, lost in this French paradigm when I stumbled on Rohn’s quote. It totally changed my outlook. I now have a strong desire to connect with people other than my old classmates. I felt like I’d lost myself over that last decade, been carried away on the “tide” of higher education. I’ve come to terms with not really having a “trade” that perfectly matches my definition of happiness, because I like the idea that there are just as many “trades” as there are individuals.
Today, I like to consider myself as a well-rounded, multifaceted individual. I have a lawyer’s thirst for justice, a doctor’s desire to listen and care, a comedian’s passion to make people laugh, an artist’s need to create, and a yogi’s drive for inner peace. But above all, I dream of bringing people together and helping them work towards life fulfilment.
True happiness, then, comes from knowing when to step off the beaten track of the French system, explore new horizons and listen more carefully to yourself in order to find YOUR own personal trade. I hope this article encourages you to surround yourself with five good people, starting with yourself.