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Is Your Inner Circle Helping You Reach Your Full Potential?

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Pull back, get a bird’s-eye view, and see the bigger picture from the Ferris Wheel. From below, this human roulette looks straightforward—but as you climb, your perspective changes. Soar above it all and marvel at the panoramic vista from the top, where the dazzling heights offer fresh insights. Which people lift you up and belong in your life? Which ones drag you down and need to get gone? Circle back to ground level to say hello, and then maybe goodbye as you rise high into the sky.

Who is in your inner circle?

Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you keep closest to you.” I believe that to be true. And, it’s not just me; studies have shown that people with overweight friends are 57% more likely to become overweight.

And, in fact, proximity doesn’t make a difference here. The way the closest people to you behave—whether they are emotionally or physically close—influences the way you behave.

What they do becomes what you do.

What they think becomes what you think.

What they normalize becomes what is normalized for you.

If Jim Rohn’s quote is a good one, here’s an even better one from the legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “You will never outperform your inner circle.”

Just let that settle in for a moment, and let me repeat it again for the people in the back: “You will never outperform your inner circle.

So, it begs the question: who is in your inner circle? Do they push you forward or hold you back?

I believe that every inner circle should have three types of members:
  • Someone you can mentor: There is no better way to finally get past imposter syndrome than to spend some time teaching someone something you really, really know.

  • Someone who is a peer: Having someone with whom you can celebrate or commiserate helps you keep moving forward, not feel alone, and provide a sanity check throughout.

  • Someone to whom you aspire: Keeping an eye on someone who is kicking ass at a thing you want to do will provide you with a target to emulate and a bar to reach.

Over the past few years, we went from normalcy to suddenly spending even more time than usual on social media—where social media was how we were actually social at all for quite a while there. That said, I’d ask you to consider the question even more broadly:

  • Who is in your social media inner circle?

  • Where are you getting your news?

  • Who is bringing you joy?

  • To whom are you aspiring?

  • Where are you getting your definitions of what success looks like, now, and in the future?

  • Who is comment-bombing your feed and dragging you down?

I have one word for you: unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.

(OK, so technically that was three words, but that shows you how strongly I feel about how much your inner circle impacts your potential.)

Choose your community, keep the people whose actions, thoughts, and norms make you proud. Unfollow the rest.

It’s really just that simple. Click. They’re gone. And, the beauty is that they won’t even know it. Just unfollow them. They’ll stop showing up in your feed. You’ll stop being influenced by them. And you’ll make room for the people who you actually want to see, the people whose influence you actually want and need.

And, here’s the added bonus: as you begin to unplug more and more, ever-emerging from our zones of quarantine confinement, you can unfollow them in real life too.

In Praise of Burning Bridges

This feels like the right moment to share an unpopular opinion: I’m in favor of burning bridges.

I don’t say this flippantly, and I don’t take the decision to burn a bridge lightly. But when it needs to be done, it needs to be done.

As we encounter each new Wonderhell, in that moment between yesterday’s accomplishment and tomorrow’s dream, we often stop in our tracks, listening to lies in our heads and letting them deter our progress.


Some people will disapprove of the life you’d really like to be living. They won’t like the you that you want to become. But why let them define your success? Why should they get a vote about what or who you should be?

Here is the truth bomb: when you grow—when your life gets bigger—you are inevitably going to outgrow the people who liked you when you were smaller.

Why? Perhaps, as discussed earlier, their designs on your progress come from a place of love, or jealousy, or fear. Or perhaps, seeing that your path has brought you to more fulfilling outcomes, they feel insecure about their own choices. They perversely believe that your growth somehow limits their own. Whatever the reason, you may find that as you move forward, it’s best to leave them behind.

Your potential is limitless. So ask yourself: Why live in a way designed for the comfort of people who want to impose limits on you? And why respond this way to those particular people? Why should they decide whether or not your life is the right life . . . for you?

You can’t keep someone in your inner circle whose lack of imagination is limiting your ambition, whose stagnation is stopping your evolution, or whose fear is curbing your excitement—not if you want to get through the hell to the wonder, and become the person you know you can be. And this is where the gift of goodbye reveals itself.

Goodbyes allow you to put in the rearview mirror a habit that doesn’t build you, a practice that doesn’t grow you, a mindset that doesn’t serve you, a belief that doesn’t suit you, a friend who doesn’t see you—I mean really, really see you. Goodbyes allow you to move forward boldly (or even meekly at first—that’s okay, too) into the uncertainty of your new perspective.

So go ahead, burn that bridge. Say goodbye. Give yourself the freedom to choose the inner circle that sets you up for success.


This blog contains excerpts from Wonderhell: Why Success Doesn't Feel Like It Should . . . and What to Do About It by Laura Gassner Otting.

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