You Become Like the People You Hang Around

Donald Miller

Today concludes the blog series from the book Father Fiction. Thanks for coming along. Today’s blog is from a chapter on the importance of intentional friendships, and argues that if you’re screwing up your life, it might be because you are hanging out with the wrong people. Bound to be some controversy here. Regardless, here’s the excerpt:

“…Last month I visited a prison in Texas. I had the chance to guest-teach a class in a progressive rehabilitation program. I taught, but mostly I listened. As the guys told me their stories, their reasons for being in prison, I noticed a common thread. They had been affected by their community, by the people they hung out with. Almost all problems and successes in life boil down to relationships. These guys had gotten themselves into relationships that led to trouble. Either they had joined gangs or hung out with drug addicts or met girls who took them down a bad path. The reason they were in prison was because their friends, in a way, put them there.

I’m not saying they weren’t responsible for their own actions, because they were, but I am saying that taking responsibility for their lives should have started a long time before they committed their crimes. It should have started when they chose to get involved with the friends they got involved with. We become like the people we hang out with. This isn’t me being judgmental, this is actually what they told me.

It’s possible to take control over who it is that influences us. And it’s something I recommend everybody do, especially if you want to be successful…A few years ago, I handpicked some guys I wanted to be friends with. I already had some good friends, but knowing you become like the people you hang around, I decided I wanted to take more responsibility for who I was becoming. I looked around and identified four guys who didn’t know each other very well, but each of whom I wanted to be like in some way. They owned their own businesses, they were faithful to their wives, they were intelligent. I asked each of them if they would get together for breakfast on Tuesday mornings in Portland. To my surprise, each of them said yes. And so we met. I told them that, essentially, I thought of them as great guys, and wanted to figure out how we could spend more time together, helping each other’s businesses and running our lives through the collective filter of our experiences. Amazingly, each of these guys had been looking for the same thing. The guys loved the idea, and for more than two years, we’d get together and talk at the same cafe on Tuesday mornings.

We didn’t have much of an agenda, really, just to talk about life and to be honest. Months would go by and I wasn’t exactly sure what I or they were getting out of our time together. But looking back, I can see some of these guys have become close friends. I can see that I’m no longer lonely for brotherhood, or for that matter, for wisdom and accountability. One of us has since gotten married, and we are celebrating him and his bride. Another just had a son, and we are celebrating the creation of his family. In a way, I now have brothers to share life with, to do life with. And I am becoming like them too. These aren’t guys who complain about their bosses or disrespect their wives. And so naturally, when  I encounter men who do that sort of thing, it strikes me as weak, and I pull away. That’s just not who I want to become.

All that to say, it might be time to take a closer look at the people you’re hanging around. Are they the kinds of people you want to be like? I know that sounds terrible, like I’m asking you to disrespect your friends. I’m not. But I am asking you to be honest. Are they holding you back? Are they really good friends, or are they just using you? Are you going to end up in jail if you keep hanging out with them, if you keep doing the things you are doing?

If you don’t want to leave your friends, it might be time to have a hard conversation and explain you want to move on, maybe go to college or learn a skill. And you can invite them to join you. If they don’t want to, you certainly gave them a chance.

If that doesn’t work, you need to find a new community. It might be lonely for a while, but you’ve got to do it. Don’t say you can’t, because you can. Go online and find a kayaking class, a chess club, a book club, a karate class, an internship, ask a teacher to help you find a new community, a preacher, your mom, just be proactive. Take responsibility for your life. If your friends are heading to prison, lead and head the opposite direction. Find something better. The world needs you to be a better person.”

* Thanks for reading samples from Father Fiction this week. If you know of a kid who is growing up without a dad, would you consider getting a copy for him or her? The advice in this book may seem basic to some of us, but it may have never been taught to a kid growing up without a father. Thanks so much!

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • This is a good article. Choosing your friends, is almost the equivalent of choosing your destiny. Good topic!

  • Carlin

    “Our lives are defined by the choices we make at this moment in time, not by the circumstances surrounding us or our past.” -Carlin Coleman

    Our son is clean for 54 days now and having great difficulty complying with the advice of many substance abuse counselors, NarcAnon, both his parents, both his brothers, and all the relevant literature I could get my hands on to CHOOSE NEW FRIENDS TO AVOID RELAPSE.

    I’ve forwarded your chapter to him. How very relevant that I stumbled upon your blog while surfing the net trying to find the famous quote from Tennessee Williams: ““Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”

    And it is all the more relevant since last night ‘in the rooms’ he FINALLY decided to choose a NarcAnon sponsor.

    Thank you for your posting. I’ll be buying your book.

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  • Thai Nguyen

    Glad I stumbled upon your article Donald. I read Blue Like Jazz years ago and loved your work. Thanks for sharing, I’m researching for a short piece that touches on the importance of who you surround yourself with.

  • Wow the information within this post made a lot of sense to me, I was writing an ebook just now and this gave me great reference points. Great post!