This post is part of The Renegade Musician Series.

There’s one fundamental, inescapable truth about being an artist (and for that matter, human being) that can either uplift or plague your entire existence (that means the rest of your life) – it’s your association, the people you hang around.

You are the culmination of your five closest friends and the books you’ve read – no exceptions. You act like your friends, you think like your friends, you sound like your friends, you even look like your friends after a while – guaranteed. Show me who you hang around, and I will know more about you in minutes than if I spent hours giving you the third degree.

And if you said, “I don’t read books,” you’re like the 95%. The exact stat is that 27% of adults in the U.S. didn’t read a book in 2018. A single. Damn. Book. On the other hand, CEOs, on average, read a book per week (now that’s 5% behavior – no wonder they’re executives).

It might be time to rethink your downtime. If you’re like most, you’ve got TV, movies, or videos on continuous rotation five to eight hours per day. Be honest. Substitute just 30 minutes with reading inspiring, relevant material and you will make massive leaps in your development – in your job, music career, relationships, and life. Most people don’t do this. Test it out for yourself.

Renegade Musicians have the depth of vision to see that their health, wealth, and relationships are also the average of the five people they hang around. Again, that’s either an encouraging truth or harrowing reality check.

You could have drawn the same conclusions from what was said earlier about the 95%, but I’m leaving nothing to chance. Even if this ends up being rote repetition, it’s well worth reinforcing the cold, hard truth.

So, what can you do about it?

The reading habit is easy enough to cultivate. It’s not hard to find good books, either. The harder part is parsing your social circles.

Here are the two things you must know about association:

Develop Your Inner Circle

You must choose and cultivate your inner circle wisely. If you think otherwise, study marketing guru Dan Kennedy’s No B.S. Business Success in the New Economy.

The exact formation doesn’t matter much – the point is you have a small inner circle of people who are allowed to speak into your life (coaches, mastermind group, spouse, etc.), followed by increasingly larger circles that you give decreasing amounts of weight to – 1) experts and specialists, 2) go-betweens, 3) vendors and providers you trust, 4) colleagues and peers, and 5) Facebook “friends,” people you randomly bumped into that one time, and so on (Kennedy humorously labels this circle “Dialogue with the Dead”).

The key distinction being – if people in your inner circle offer any criticism, it’s to make you better. It’s constructive feedback. If people in the outermost circle offer criticism, it’s mostly mutterings of the mundane, complaints of the complacent, and indeed, dialogue with the dead.

You can’t erect literal fences around each circle, nor can you completely prevent interaction with people in all categories. It’s a fool’s errand for artists, public figures, and celebrities. I’m not even asking you to make lists of where all the people you know fit in.

The question is, “who do you listen to?”

Just because we’re Renegades doesn’t mean we get to cancel everyone. Cancelling is the opposite of what we should do.

But you are a rare individual, and it’s also a rare individual who will be able to speak into your life and offer worthy insights. Jesus had 12 apostles, and if your inner circle is any bigger than that, you’re saying you’re better than God.

Jesus had 12 apostles, and if your inner circle is any bigger than that, you’re saying you’re better than God. Click To Tweet

Elevate Your Friends or Find New Friends

The choice is twofold. You can elevate your friends, or you can make new friends. Both choices aren’t necessarily easy.

I have mostly chosen the former throughout life, knowing full well it’s the longer path. As you can imagine, no matter how much you care about the people in your life, not everyone responds to the call to be better.

“My best friend will join my mastermind group and commit to reading a book per month,” you think, and it turns out they’d rather watch a movie with their boyfriend. Or be washing their hair. Or literally anything else.

I have spent weekends with friends where a couple of them sat around going, “I feel like we should be doing something other than watching movies or playing video games. I feel like we should be creating something.” As we proceed to watch movies and play video games for the rest of the weekend.

(I always knew full well that they were looking at my considerable body of work, wishing they’d put the time and effort into creating something for themselves.)

I like spending time with friends and appreciate the rare diversion. You can see that I’m not dogmatic in my adoption of the inner circle concept. But as I said, the occasion referenced was a “rare” diversion, and I would not get my advice concerning my work ethic from any of the friends referenced.

Time is always a constraint, but at least it’s democratic. We all get the exact same 24-hour deposit, every single day, as well as the choice of what to do with it. People can put the time into creating something for themselves, or they can watch a screen all night. Be a creator or a consumer. I shouldn’t need to tell you which Renegade Musicians are.

Time is always a constraint, but at least it’s democratic. We all get the exact same 24-hour deposit, every single day, as well as the choice of what to do with it. Click To Tweet

Bottom line – you can encourage others to be better, but you can’t force them to be better.

Some of my friends did choose themselves, and they are among my best friends. I used to be the one urging them to elevate. Now, they’re the ones tugging at me with intensive yearlong leadership programs, hypnotherapy, vegan diets, and more. They light a fire under my butt. I always wanted to surround myself with people like that, and my wish came true. Now I’ve found the people I will be joining on the beaches of the world.

The other choice, as noted, is to find new friends. Notice I said nothing about ostracizing your old friends or cutting ties with them. It’s simply not the Renegade way. Burning ships may be necessary, but burning bridges rarely is. As you pursue a new path, though, it’s a virtual guarantee that most of your social circle will not follow you into the unknown. The mainstream media leads the sheep, and most will not accept you as their shepherd, even if you’re a prophet.

The mainstream media leads the sheep, and most will not accept you as their shepherd, even if you’re a prophet. Click To Tweet

Yes, it can be a lonely road. But that’s what it means to be a Renegade. Choose to wear it as a badge of honor and accept no less.

As for where to look…

There’s probably a couple on Facebook you befriended long ago that started an eCommerce store, a motivational speaker you randomly followed on Twitter, someone at the gym you go to that’s wealthier than god because of their Etsy store.

You may not be able to get together with these people all the time, let alone introduce them to each other. But you can follow them, read, and comment on their posts, and surprise them with well-placed gifts.

Ultimately, your association is a matter of who you spend time with, and there are different ways of spending time with people. Physical may be preferred, but virtual is more practical. Tweets, podcast episodes, and video conferences can’t hug you, but they can at least hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Certainly, don’t go without where supply is abundant. At times, it might be better to find comfort in a fling than wait until you find an equally ambitious life partner. But always be cautious of who you’re taking advice from, and always be willing to question everything.

Take advantage of The Most Incredible Back to School Sale while you still can.