Are We The Average of the Five People We Spend The Most Time With?

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”

 -Jim Rohn

Photographer:  David P. Brown
Photographer: David P. Brown

Being a teacher, I spend most of my work hours with young people, but not any few in particular, so it was pretty easy to come up with the five adults I spend the most time with.

Between my fiance and four friends and coworkers–all of whom I admire and respect for different reasons–I can see myself as an embodiment of their collective values, interests, and personalities.  Of course, there is some give and take–I’m not simply a sponge, soaking up influence.

My fiance challenges me to become a better listener, among other things, as my mind tends to move on to the next idea before hearing people out.  I’ve improved in this regard since knowing her.  One colleague is an innovative urban farmer and local food guru.  He has inspired me to keep my own chickens and be more mindful of sourcing my food.  Another colleague is the most empathic teacher I’ve ever met, and also maniacally conscientious when it comes to thoughtful classroom instruction.  And another friend and colleague I spend hours with is light-hearted and goofy, and I certainly embrace those qualities.

The idea of the five people relates to the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes.  It’s basic probability.  So with blogging, I can expect this post to receive an average number of hits if its characteristics are similar to my previous posts.  How about catastrophe?  Apparently I have a 1 in 340,733 chance of dying an accidental death by fireworks during my lifetime.

Many of us frequently think about averages and probability, but I hadn’t thought about the concept as it relates to my being–how I could represent the average “person” depending on who I spend time with.

This Business Insider article by Aimee Groth emphasizes the effect relationships have on us:  “When it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Of course, everyone is their own person, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think.”

This might seem obvious to some, but the idea of whittling down your interactions to five people shed light for me about the power of the idea.

It’s something we should talk to students about.  After all, how many of you know young people who hang out with an unruly or disinterested crowd, and have a tough time breaking free of their influence?  I have little doubt that challenging students to reflect on this idea would provide some insight, and perhaps some discomfort.  Especially for those students who want to do well, but realize that the people they spend time with–willingly or unwillingly–do not share their same goals and desires.

What do you think of this idea?  Does this quote apply to you?  Who do you spend the most time with?  


  1. Thanks Kent!
    The Dos and Don’ts piece seems to be resonating with many educators, and I’m glad some are finding my reflection helpful. Hope the school year is going well.

  2. Falling on your work once again paul, this time in the Marshall Memo digest of ed journals!! As I poke through the blog, BarnYoung field put a smile on my face today, and I’m sharing the Do’s and Don’ts throughout our district.

  3. Not sure about the magical number of 5. I think we are most influenced by those we respect the most; perhaps certain characteristics of each rather than the whole person. Those most influential are filling a need, sometimes unknown, within ourselves. Good blog!

  4. I guess that depends on how open minded they actually are… I think genuinely open minded people certainly have the ability to socialise with a wider group of people 🙂

  5. Beth Anne,
    I haven’t read that book, but it sounds like an interesting read. I enjoy most books that explore how we make decisions/judgements. I recommend Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

  6. Kalicet,
    I had the same reaction–trying to pinpoint the five people is an interesting thought exercise. As JE stated above, like attracts like–people generally align themselves with those who have similar interests. Do you think adults who consider themselves open-minded spend a lot of time with a diverse group of five people?

  7. Hmm I will have to give my 5 people some thought as I go about my day today. I’m going to take you on a tangent though – have you read Proofiness by Charles Seife? I am just working my way through it – the premise that people are more likely to believe what you say if you include numbers (regardless how inaccurate).

  8. thanks for this interesting thought – I’m sure all your readers are calculating their average as they read!
    Interesting to see you have focused on the GOOD qualities of your friends… do you see yourself in their faults as well?

  9. This has really got me thinking – it does stop you when you think of just five people rather than “general influences” Certainly as a youth worker I agree which what you say about young people and the idea of getting them to think about this…. but I think that ADULTS need to hear it more – we tend to think we are immune to such things. It would also be interesting to think about what happens to people when they for example land in a workplace where people around them have ideas or lifestyles very different to their own. A potential cause of misery, loss of self esteem, even depression perhaps?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s