We are the average of the five people we hang out with.
This is a generic statement to highlight the idea that our thinking, our goals, our perspectives are all bound between two extremes. Local extremes (but we actually treat them as global extremes most of the time). Extremes that are defined on either side by people or characters that we interact with often.
It need not be five people. It can be seven. It can be ten. Twenty. Fifty. How many ever we can interact with in a meaningful way often enough. Just like a manager cannot devote enough time to more than seven direct reportees, we can take five as the working average here.
When you're on the road, driving your car, headed from one place to another, you are quite sure of where you are headed. And you either follow another car if you don't know the exact way to get there or because you find it easier to trust the judgment of the driver of that car on navigating the potholes and speedbreakers on the road than to constantly keep an eye out for them yourself. The distinction lines are clear. You know exactly how the car in front of you is influencing you.
The distinction lines are not that clear in most other aspects of life. So, even though you might be following the people you hang out with because it is easier for you to trust their judgment in navigating potholes and speedbreakers than do it yourself, but actually end up following them to their destination, inadvertently. Which may not be where you wanted to go when you started off.
A lot of us don't know where we want to go in the first place, so this generally doesn't seem like that much of an issue. That's the reason the lines get so blurred. If it was like driving, we'd know exactly where we are headed, and stop following the car in front of us the moment it deviates from the path that takes us where we are headed. When we don't know where we're headed, there is no meaning to a deviation and we continue on.
While it is harder to figure out early on where you want to end up, it is easy enough to pick the five people to hang out with.
There is nothing much a popular school or a top University or a successful company adds to a student or an employee. It just ensures that the five people they hang out with are on the more ambitious side of the scale. The more curious side and the more enterprising side.
Birds of a feather flock together. Who are the five people you are the average of?