“You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, ya understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo's, you get yo-yo friends. You see, simple mathematics.”
“Who you know is more important that what you know,” a principle that is sometimes reduced to this simple cynical statement is not only important in our everyday life, but at those crucial turning points that make us who we are. Sociologists, both liberal and conservative, studying the bifurcation of America have determined that the social connections of parents can be a crucial factor in the development of their children. The doctor, lawyer, or drug dealer serves not only as a role model or mentor, but can speak a word on behalf of a child that will result in acceptance at a prestigious university or membership in a criminal organization.
Let’s turn our focus from the systemic problems of our society to the mundane experiences of this retired engineer. Yesterday I walked 7.5 miles, a personal best. As a result, I am writing this blog article at a time that I would normally be hoofing it up and down the trail. One of the reasons I attempted this feat was an interchange with an older couple who walk farther than I can walk—Yet! Whenever we meet, they always encourage me to step up my game. In turn, I express my admiration for their accomplishments. If a woman who is training to walk a half marathon on her seventieth birthday can kick out 6 miles a day on a regular basis, what can I accomplish if I try? This is typical of interchanges on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, but it is more than words. When I walk with better athletes, I not only am inspired to walk farther, but I also walk faster. When I walk with people who haven’t reached my level, I walk the same distance, but I walk slower. I always try to be positive and encouraging in all these interactions. If I spent a similar amount of time with people who believe that life ends at 60, who are making no effort to improve their health, I would most likely return to my preferred natural state, a couch potato.
Competing with better players makes you a better player. When I practiced Tai Chi “push hands,” a form of controlled sparing, with my teacher or more advanced students, I had to get better or continue to get embarrassed. When I practiced with beginners, I had to lower my game to their level. After practicing with these people for an extended period of time, my teacher would point out that I had fallen into bad habits, as he gently took advantage of my carelessness.
One of the benefits I have in retirement is membership in Writeminds, a writers’ group that is an extension of our church into the community. I know I am pretty good, but some of our members are special. Really! Writeminds includes published authors who get money because real people buy their books. It even includes a member who has managed to sell the film rights to one of his novels. One of the younger members who hasn’t yet completed her first novel, sometimes just takes my breath away with her skill. Last week I shared one of my older blog posts in a private conversation. I remember at the time it was written I was pretty proud of the piece. When I read it again before sharing it, I instantaneously came up with about half-a-dozen different ways to improve it. I realized that I was a better writer because I was thinking in ways that I learned from hanging out with—better writers.
Now I am thinking about a woman I know who writes grant proposals that win. She writes these things for her clients, then they get money and she gets money.
What can I learn from her?