Have you ever noticed how the people in your life affect you? The impact can be so significant that one of the best things we can do to change our lives for the better is change our peer group.
In the 1930s C.S. Lewis started a small literary circle called the Inklings. The group started with J.R.R. Tolkien, and eventually included others like Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. The influence on works in progress of the different members was huge. Lewis actually scrapped the first draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe after his friends heard some chapters. They considered it “so bad that I destroyed it,” he said. It’s impossible to discount the influence of our friends.
That’s why Solomon stressed friendships so much and so often. “Iron sharpens iron,” he says in one place, “and one man sharpens another.” He also warned about negative friendships: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul.” Our peers really matter. And we can put that to work for us if we’re intentional about it.
Usually we drift into peer groups. They could be associates from work, our kids’ school, church, whatever. The important thing to notice is how often these relationships just happen. They’re not intentional. But if iron sharpens iron, shouldn’t we be careful about the kind of edge others are giving us? Instead of random relationships, what if we could create communities that helped everyone involved achieve their goals together, like Lewis and the Inklings? We can, and this kind of intentional relationships are invaluable in at least three areas:
- Learning – Getting connected with a good group can accelerate your learning, provide key insights, help you find important resources, and teach you best practices.
- Encouragement – Whether it’s business, family life, or our faith journey, life can be tough. A good peer group can give you the validation and support you need to keep going and rise above the tempests.
- Accountability – We need people who can speak into our lives and help us when we’re veering off track. The right peers are essential for this.
And of course, it’s not just about what you get. You can offer the same learning, encouragement, and accountability to others in the group. These peer groups can take different shapes and configurations depending on how intimate we desire them to be.
Examples of different groups could include:
- Blog or social media communities. I’m proud of the community you’ve helped me build here. It’s source of information and encouragement to many, including me. I feel the same way about the intentional community we’ve built through Platform University.
- Mastermind groups. These are a key way to learn best practices, insider information, and get feedback for new ideas and projects. These groups work best for sharing among people who are highly accomplished in their fields who feel comfortable sharing with others. Here’s how you can launch one of your own. I’ve greatly benefitted from mastermind groups and am starting my own soon.
- Mentoring groups. Many of you know that I’ve run my own mentoring group. The idea was to get young professionals together to grow through some of life’s challenging and exciting moments. When all was said and done, I found it as helpful as the others did.
- Reading or study groups. There is so much to learn about life, faith, family, and business sometimes the best way is get a group of people around a table and study a book on the topic together. The book gives the group a track to run on, and the right chemistry among the members can create conversations that go far beyond the book itself.
- Accountability groups. There are very formal accountability groups like AA or the Samson Society, but they can be more informal as well. The idea here is that members are invited to speak into each other’s lives to encourage and challenge when needed.
- Close friendships. Nothing replaces good friendships. Lewis and Tolkien’s relationship went on for years, and even when it was strained, remained beneficial to them both. I’ve found the same thing among my own friends. It’s easy to place work or family ahead of these sorts of relationships, but good friendships are like supports that hold up other areas of our life. Without strong friendships the quality of our lives can be greatly diminished.
Do your peers get you? Can you contribute and add value to their lives? It’s might be more important than you think to your well being. Intentional relationships make us more productive, creative, and useful than we could ever be on our own.
If you’re like me, building these relationships can be a challenge. Professional and family demands can easily interfere with building and maintaining these sorts of groups, especially the more intimate and intensive ones. But don’t miss out! They can also benefit your professional and family lives in ways so big you may never be able to measure them.
What relationships have you found the most helpful for your professional and private life? Remember: we are the average of the 5 people we deal with at most. Choose them wisely.