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Your mother was right, you are who your friends are

You have needs, I have needs, we all have needs—one of which, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, is to feel love and a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures by nature, and we often socialize based on proximity. Think about how and where you’ve made friends in the past: at school, at work, or in your neighborhood or community. We’re more likely to become friends with people who are geographically close, to build relationships

These relationships don’t necessarily push us to become better versions of ourselves, and sometimes we outgrow the people we meet by proximity. Think about high school friends that never left your hometown, college friends you shared a dorm with, or people that spend much of the present reminiscing about the past.

It’s hard to come to terms with outgrowing a friend. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, especially with lifelong friends with whom you’ve formed intense bonds. But it’s natural for interests and priorities to shift over time, and also to desire friends that will consistently challenge you to be the best version of you. So, how can you seek and surround yourself with people that elevate you?

Become your own social architect

If you want friends with like ambitions, it (almost) goes without saying that you have to be aware of your social surroundings. Are you spending time with people because it’s convenient or because it’s what you really want to do? The more you kick it with your friends out of habit, the more their hobbies and way of living become your own. That’s how you end up doing things you never really liked in the first place. For example, if your friends spend most of their time drinking after work, you’ll likely find yourself drinking, too, and putting off that side hustle. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who do you spend most of your time with?
  • Do you feel empowered and inspired, or drained and uninspired after spending time with them?
  • Do you help others feel empowered? (A friendship that elevates is a two-way street.)

Don’t sleepwalk through your social circles—be intentional about how you spend your time, and who you spend it with.

Don’t sleepwalk through your social circles—be intentional about how you spend your time, and who you spend it with. You’re ultimately responsible for shaping the environment that will shape you.

Pinpoint your values

You also have to know what inspires you and what you value. Take stock of the qualities you appreciate in an individual, what you relish and what you don’t. It matters.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of person do you want to be in the future?
  • What qualities do you appreciate in others? Think bigger than the activities a person partakes in and more about the behavior and ethics behind those activities.
  • Do the people you spend most of your time with push you to try new things or reach your goals?

In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80 percent of income in Italy was received by 20 percent of the Italian population. Soon after, management thinker Joseph M. Juran suggested the Pareto Principle, or the observation that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs. When applied to your social circle, 20 percent of the people in your life account for 80 percent of your happiness. What does this mean? Once you know your values and the qualities you admire in friends, it’s wiser to invest in the 20 percent of friendships that bring you the most happiness.

20 percent of the people in your life account for 80 percent of your happiness.

Get out of your comfort zone

To meet new people, you have to talk to strangers and participate in situations that both frighten and motivate you. Most important, be honest and present. The best way to be a gravitational social force is to be comfortable with yourself, even when you feel a little uncomfortable. Not only will you deflect those that are less likely to be a good influence, you’re actually more likely to attract individuals you align with.

Pursuing your interests and goals will naturally attract those with similar aspirations. If spending time with friends feels like it’s in direct conflict with, say, a passion for candle-making, then either make time for your hobby, invite your friends to make candles with you or, even better, take a candle-making class or seek others that make candles for a living. That might be an extreme example, but you get the point.

Our parents were right, you are who you hang with

Taking a mindful, purposeful approach to expanding your social circle can create some career magic, encourage personal growth, and help you realize your goals. Setting a standard for the type of friendships you want can also lead to some surprising new adventures. Finding your people might take some time, but when you find them, everyone benefits.

Amanda Roosa is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. When she's not petting other people's dogs, she's exploring where technology and humanity converge. Find her on Twitter: @mandyroosa.