This is a cliché these days but it is well worth repeating
During my late teens and early twenties, I can only describe myself as a bit of a deadbeat. I got in with the wrong crowd, spent many years living on state benefits, and had a series of dead-end jobs.
I started to realize that my life was far from great, so decided to enroll in evening classes at the local college. I studied three A Levels over two years. The equivalent in the US are AP examinations.
I passed all three and decided to go to university. It was at university that my whole world changed. Looking back now it seems obvious that what happened was that I went from hanging around with deadbeats to hanging around with more educated and ambitious people.
“He who walks with wise men shall be wise; But the companion of fools shall suffer harm” Proverbs 13:20
And this is indeed what happened to me. I stopped being a companion of fools and started to walk with wise men and women.
“The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity” Colin Powell
And the less I associated with deadbeats, the more my life improved.
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Jim Rohn
And I definitely changed for the better when the people I started spending the most time with were more aligned with what I wanted out of life.
This is a fairly crucial point for those that want to be successful in life. It’s almost impossible to become successful if you hang around with unsuccessful people.
I still have a few friends from the old days, and I still enjoy their company from time to time, but I make sure that I spend most of my time with people that have similar ambitions to me. This helps drive me forward.
When I’ve shared some of my ideas with unsuccessful people, all I’ve got in return was negativity. When I’ve shared those ideas with successful people, I’ve usually been given encouragement, helpful tips and even been introduced to people that could help. This makes a huge amount of difference in whether you are likely to succeed or not.
To give just a simple example, I started getting into a few online projects and started some affiliate marketing websites. I told some of my old friends about this, and their reaction was to tell me that I was just being silly because it obviously wasn’t going to work. I asked one friend why he thought that and he said that he had already tried, so he knew it couldn’t possibly work.
Hearing comments like that really can put a downer on your goals and ambitions. Luckily, I continued anyway. I then mentioned it to a friend in London that had a pretty good job in the tech industry. His reaction was totally different. He said he had a friend that did the same thing and that they seemed to be doing well, so I should meet up with him.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between having friends with a negative or positive attitude.
Of course, all of this takes time. I didn’t suddenly change on the first day of university. It was a transition over the three years that I was there. I didn’t suddenly dump all my old friends, but simply started spending more time with fellow students. I went from someone without much self-belief to someone that believed that they could get a great job and build a great life.
When I left university I had debt of around $3,000 ($4,000). I’m British and went to university in the UK in the 1980s. Back then students got free tuition and were also given small grants. Mine was around £1,800 (around $2,350) a year. That was less than I had previously been getting while on state benefits. So I also had to get a part-time job to supplement the grant. I graduated with a degree in Statistics.
Another thing I should add about my university years is that it wasn’t all plain sailing. In my first year, I studied Statistics, Pure Math and Philosophy, and needed to pass all three to progress to the second year. I ended up failing Pure Math, and my lecturer suggested that I had chosen the wrong subject and should re-apply to the university to do an entirely different course and start again from the beginning.
At this point, my old friends encouraged me to give up, while my new friends at university encouraged me to re-sit the exam I failed.
That evening, I got all my university notes together and was about to throw them in the trash and try to find a job instead. University was obviously not for me. But I decided to sleep on it. The next day I decided I would have one more go. Thanks to the encouragement of my new friends, I made the right choice. I dread to think what might have become of my life if I had listened to my old friends.
I was allowed to re-sit the Pure Math exam in two months’ time. So for the next two months (during the summer holidays), I went to the university almost every single day from around 10 until 4. In two months I think I only missed 3 or 4 days. I was even there on Saturdays and Sundays.
What I did was get all the past exams for the last 10 years and just sit there and do each exam over and over and over. The questions were fairly similar from year to year and I really got the hang of answering them all. I then sat and passed the re-sit exam.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” Maya Angelou
There is a huge lesson here in not giving up, and in really applying yourself to a task when you need to. It would have been so easy to give up. It was tough going to college every day, knowing that everyone else was enjoying their summer break. It was well worth it in the end though. It’s another scary thought that I could have just given up and been stuck in life, not knowing where to head next. I think giving up would have totally shattered my confidence.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge
Surrounding yourself with the right people is one of the most crucial things you can do if you want a successful life. Make sure you’re hanging out with the right crowd.