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Birds of a feather flock together. You are the company you keep. You become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with…

This is all age-old advice that we tried to ignore in our teens. But it’s accurate.

Do you find yourself in tricky situations because of the people you’re around?

How are your friends influencing you? What kind of clients are you serving, and are they impacting your service?

It’s important to ask yourself these questions when you’re trying to build a better life for yourself. Especially as a creator.

Let’s start with your friends – and family.

Be careful of the people you surround yourself with.

If you find your friends telling you what NOT to do, you may have a problem. “Don’t pursue your dream, you don’t have time for that.”

Or if you’ve surrounded yourself with people who gossip and complain…you may also have a problem. “Jane and John are putting out some shit work…”

Negative influences can definitely wear on your soul. When everything is wrong in everyone else’s world, it can start to have negative effects on your own life.

Think about that friend who complains non-stop about the in-laws. They’re also behind on their bills, don’t have a vehicle, and can’t hold down a decent job.

Spotting these people can be difficult – especially if they’ve been in your life for a significant amount of time. Maybe you have that aunt or uncle that just can’t stop bitching. Or maybe your best friend since middle school still hasn’t given up on drugs and alcohol.

But you look the other way because that’s just how they are…

Even if it’s obvious from the outside that these people are toxic, you can’t see it unless you take a step back and look again.

There are also much more subtle indicators that your immediate circle could be holding you back. Even if those people want what they think is best for you.

Like the parent or friend that encourages you to pursue a different career because your ideas aren’t practical. They think they’re being supportive without showing you real support.

It’s a sweet poison, for sure. When people want the best for you in their own eyes, they can’t see what’s best for you from your perspective.

It’s time to get surgical.

And getting surgical requires pain and sacrifice. Removing people from your life feels like removing body parts, but if you have gangrene…it’s gotta go.

You need to strategically remove people from your life if they’re holding you back. Limit exposure to negative people who may not hold you back, but influence your outlook on the world in a not-so-great way.

Again – it will hurt, but it’s necessary. You can’t grow as a person if everyone around you is holding you back.

Start with a list.

Write down the names of everyone in your life that you spend time with. Think about family, coworkers, and friends.

Now, think about their behavior. Are they gossips? Do they party too much to grow? Are they offering too much “practical” advice that limits your potential?

Think about the flip-side, too. Do any of these people look at your ideas and encourage them? Offer suggestions on how to make your ideas work? Do they ask questions that help you clarify your goals? These are the gold-mine influences who will help you grow. And they are rare.

Prioritize your contacts.

Once you have a list of people and the qualities they exhibit, start thinking about who you need to remove completely from your life. It doesn’t matter if they’re family or a long-time friend, sometimes you have to let people go. It could hurt, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty.

Some people may get to stay on the list with limited contact. If they don’t intend to hold you back, you may be able to protect yourself from their influence. Spend less time with them or have a good talk about how their attitudes are hindering you.

And, finally, look for the people who help you grow more. Spend as much time as possible with these people, and look for more people like them. Your life will improve, I can promise you that.

What about clients?

Now that you’ve decided who you want to surround yourself with, you need to apply similar constraints to your clients, too.

This can be terrifying. Your clients pay your bills. They support your career and your family. But you can’t make everyone happy.

So ask yourself: do you want to do your best work? Who do you enjoy spending time with? How well-known and well-regarded do you want to be to your community?

These are the reasons you have to be selective about your clients. Mass-market almost never happens, and even if you manage to hit mass market status with your product or service, someone is going to hate it.

So why try to please everyone? Don’t bother.

Seth Godin encourages his readers to look for the Minimum Viable Audience. What’s the smallest, defined group of people that you want to serve that can support your career?

Michael Port advocates the “red velvet rope” policy. Be so selective about your clients that they feel like they’re part of a special group. Because they are.

Both of these ideas equate to the same thing – make your clients feel special because you WANT to work with them. Don’t take on every project that comes your way because you need the money.

Enjoy your growth!

I know it’s scary to take such huge leaps. I’m speaking from experience, here.

Trust me on this one, though. If you work through your influences and surround yourself with people who actually encourage your growth, you will grow as a person.

Look through your family and friends, eliminate or limit contact with the people holding you back. Find people who support you and encourage you, spend more time with them. Think about the clients you really want to serve, reach out to them and make them feel special.

It’s simple advice that is difficult to implement. Just remember how much better your life was the last time you “had enough” with somebody and moved on. That’s all I’m asking you to do.

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