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The Problem With Surrounding Yourself With Smart People

I grew up in the South and spent my early years watching buddies hang out their entire lives. Usually these buddies were picked because they wouldn’t challenge each other, push each other, or inspire each other. You probably know some people like this. They’re buddies that do nothing but “hang out.” So I decided early on that I wanted to do the opposite – to surround myself with smarter, more talented, and more driven people than me.  And for most of my life, my friends have done some amazing things. They produce movies, write successful books, run big companies, perform on Broadway, and make a great name for themselves. I’m incredibly proud of them and learn from them everyday. And in the process, they’ve inspired me to keep working, push myself more, and accomplish more than I ever dreamed.

But honestly, there is a drawback you should know before trying this strategy.

When you surround yourself with successful people, they achieve success – and sometimes you don’t.  The hard truth is, it’s sometimes a challenge to see their career skyrocket, and yours get stuck. I’m not talking about a pity party here, but from time to time you do sit back and wonder what happened to your potential. You remind yourself that everyone’s different and that God has a plan for you. But they sign new movie deals, their book sales go up, or they sell their company for millions, and you’re just watching from the sidelines.

This isn’t a blog post with the “3 Secrets to Overcome Feelings of Failure.” I truly don’t have an answer. Maybe it’s just time for a vacation.  But the big question is – would I do it again?  Would I rather be friends with people who aren’t going anywhere in life, so I can look and feel better, or be friends with motivated people who might make me look like a loser by comparison?

I have to admit, I’ll pick the motivated people every time. The benefits of friendship, challenging my thinking, and showing me options I never thought about are more than worth the occasional feelings of inadequacy by comparison.

Plus, while it’s not about keeping score, I do believe God has a plan out there somewhere. Have I missed it?

I’m not dead yet, so I’m still exploring.

What are your solutions when your career seems to stagnate while those around you do well?

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Phil Cooke is the founder and CEO of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles (CookeMediaGroup.com) where his team helps church, ministry, and nonprofit organizations engage the culture more effectively through media. He's a filmmaker, media consultant, and author of "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."