When it’s the right choice to blindly follow a leader

You know the thing people say about you being the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with?

Like if all your friends are hanging out playing video games and complaining about life that says a lot about where you’ll end up as well.

Or if all your friends are living super impressive lives that you’re probably on the same track as well?

When people say that “5 friends” bit, they’re basically telling you that if you take look around at your friends and find yourself going “meh” when you see what your friends are doing with their lives that you should probably purge those friends out of your life because they’re going to have a strong influence on your life, making it “meh” as well.

Well, that same influence works the other way around as well.

In the same way that when you don’t want to live a mediocre life you need to create space between you and your friends that might bring you down, if you believe you’re capable of a ton more than you’re currently doing and want to level up as fast as possible, you should look to put yourself in the company of someone miles ahead of you.

I’m not talking about finding someone who is a little bit ahead in the game. I’m talking about finding someone who is thinking and living at a level so far beyond yours that it seems like they are playing a completely different game. Someone who seems to operate effortlessly at all the things that you’re struggling with. Someone who seems to have it all figured out beyond any level you could possibly hope to operate at.

(Never mind that their life probably feels like complete chaos to them most of the time.)

You want to reach for someone who is essentially out of reach.

About 9 years ago I heard this recording of an entrepreneur who lived in the Bay Area long before he was rich. He was talking about how poor he was, and how he’d lie there in bed in the morning debating whether or not to spend the $3 to get a really good, strong coffee like he liked. The $3 was actually a big deal to him that he had to debate whether or not to spend the money every day.

He would always go down and get the coffee, but the point was that spending the $3 was something he actually had to worry about.

And while he was worried about spending a few bucks to get a decent espresso, he was living in a bad part of town in a bad apartment that probably had broken blinds and peeling paint and was generally depressing to live in.

The dude had surrounded himself with a bunch of energy that was probably bringing him down, and he started realizing that he needed to do something different. Do something new. Put himself into a drastically different context that might feel jarring and uncomfortable, but that’s exactly the point.

So this poor, unemployed dude gets this wild idea that he needs to move to Marin county so that he can live around all the rich people because he wanted to figure out what they were doing differently than the rest of us.

(Keep in mind that this was in the 70s when San Francisco wasn’t insanely expensive. Marin has always been a haven of the wealthy. And since it’s the 70s, the coffee probably wasn’t actually $3.)

I’m writing these words, and they seem completely ridiculous to me that I’d be referencing some bum who thought moving to Marin County, of all places, would somehow transform his life and help him figure out how to get rich.

But it did. The dude is named Marc Allen, and he ended up starting a successful publishing company and record label and building a multi-million dollar a year business. Taking a massive risk to put himself into a completely different context was a huge step to transforming his life.

My version of this has been to figure out how to work with founders who I believed had this insane sense about how to build a successful business. Every company that I join I make sure that I’m working for someone who knows how to perform at a level that I can’t (yet) relate to so I know that I’m going to just be running to keep up.

But I also know that my pace car is gonna push my limits on the daily.

The problem with moving from your busted apartment to Marin County is the same problem as working for a really stellar entrepreneur or executive. You have absolutely no clue what’s going on on a daily basis and you basically have to take a leap and take it on faith that they know what they’re doing.

But if they are living their lives in a way that you believe has integrity, and they are operating with a level of discipline and success that you admire, then chances are they are going to be massively transformative influence on your life.

But since they’re operating at an entirely different level than you, you basically have to take it on faith that they know what they’re doing, and take it on faith that they’re going to give you good advice and good insight into what you’re doing.

You need to make sure you do your homework that these are people that you want to follow around and emulate. I’ve had this burn me once in my life where an executive I was working for ended up becoming a bit of a toxic influence on my personal life and while I take responsibility for being in that situation, it cost me a bit.

So validate that this person has what you want before you plunge headlong into working with them.

But once you’ve validated their credibility and integrity, it’s crucial to just jump in and swim to keep up with them.

It’s a bit like that scene in the Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi has been making Daniel wax his floor and do all these seemingly pointless chores around the house. And then it turns out each of those chores has a direct karate application.

Sometimes there are things we can’t understand and simply have to put ourselves in a situation where we trust that we are going to grow and then do a bit of blind following.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *