Our quality of life is often in direct proportion
to the people we avoid
A lesson I learned from a coach many years ago
“What’s your philosophy about burning bridges?” he asked me.
“I try not to burn bridges, and repair the ones that are repairable, sir,”
“Well that’s a naïve way of thinking, don’t you think?” he said. “The lesson I am sharing
with you Mr. Block, is that you can never underestimate the power of influence; the
consequences, good and not-so-good, of your relationships. If you were to evaluate
those people who have had the major influences in your life and that have shaped the
kind of person you are, this has to be high on your list: the people and thoughts you
choose to allow into your life. And sometimes you have to burn a bridge or two to
distance yourself from negative and unhealthy influences.”
The quintessential nudge
Many times we don’t realize we’re being deeply affected by other people because
that influence is pretty-much established over an extended period of time –
months, years, and decades. Peer pressure is an especially powerful force
because it is so subtle. I recall spending a lot of time in Nashville many years ago,
and after a short while, many of my expressions came out in a southern tongue.
Imagine a Bostonian trying to speak with a southern accent. Not pretty.
My coach said, “If you spend a lot of time with people who spend more money than they earn, you’ll spend more
money than you earn as well. If you spend time with people who curse and swear constantly in their communications,
you’ll do the same. And if you hang out with people who read and grow professionally, you’ll grow professionally.
We tend to adapt and become part of our environment – whether we are aware of it or not.”
And you know, he was right.
We might refer to this phenomenon as the quintessential nudge. On the one hand, some people can keep nudging
us, over time, in a favorable manner as we pursuit our goals and our dreams. And this will be beneficial. On the
other hand, some people can keep nudging us in such a disastrous manner that this “negative energy” inevitably
sabotages or destroys any chance of achieving our goals and dreams. It’s these disaster-prone people we need to
avoid as best we can - or disassociate with.
It’s been my experience over the past three decades, that job seekers need to avoid or limit time with negative
influences as well. And to the degree that negative influences inhibit or outright block a happier and more fulfilling
life, and to the degree possible, we may have to resort to burning a bridge ort two along the way.
An honest analysis to free us from paralysis
When I was about half way through my first manuscript in 1995, I quite unexpectedly questioned myself and became
fearfully paralyzed. I had writer’s block and was unable to write for three months. Can I really get a book published,
I questioned? Am I even good enough?
A couple of close family members didn’t want to see me get hurt from rejections from publishers because they knew the law of averages was not in my favor. So they told me I had a better chance of winning the lottery than becoming a published author. I heard that repeatedly, though presented in a loving and well-intentioned manner. I understood—they were protecting me in their own limiting way.
But to my good fortune, most of my family and friends supported me unconditionally, even when they knew the odds were not in my favor. And it was this group of people that I can honestly say helped me get back on track. It took just a short analysis for me to realize I had to limit my discussions with two family members on the topic of getting published.
My coach taught me that I needed to evaluate the people I hang out with and those who influence me intellectually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. With regard to this key lesson, he taught me three important questions to ask myself. They may also help you to make a better analysis of those people you hang out with and the byproducts of those associations.
I suggest this is a valuable exercise to perform with job seekers, so they can assess who are helping and hurting them to achieve their workplace goals.
Here is the first question: “Who am I around?” We need to make a mental note of the people with whom we
most often associate. We have to evaluate everybody who is able to influence us in any way. If a good friend of ours
jogs every day, we’ll probably be doing a lot more jogging, as opposed to hanging around with friends who are
When I work with job seekers—I have them draw a big circle and ask them to place the names of all the people they
spend the most time with inside the circle. And you know, sometimes they are blown away with some of the people
the y spend the most time with but weren’t mindful of it.
The second question is: “What are these associations doing to me? What effect do they have on my life and my
ambitions?” This is a most powerful question we need to ask. What have they got us doing? What have they got us
listening to? What have they got us reading? What have they got us thinking? How have they got us feeling? We all
have to make a serious study of how others are influencing us both negatively and positively - because it matters!
Here’s the final question. “Is that OK?” Perhaps everyone you associate with has a positive energizing influence.
And maybe some job seekers you work with hang out primarily with top-shelve influencers. Then again, it’s been my
experience that most of us have a few bad apples in our apple cart. All I’m suggesting here is that we take a close
and objective look. And ask our clients and students to do the same.
This is not to judge others, it’s an exercise in evaluating
how other people are affecting us—catapulting us
towards our ambitions or thwarting our efforts,
consciously or subconsciously. Positivity can have an
incredible effect on our lives... but so can negativity.
Both will take us somewhere; subtly and over time will
take us out to right field—when all the while are goals
and dreams were to wind up in left field.
Perhaps you know the story of the frog and the
scorpion. But do you know what the frog said just
before he died?
The scorpion asked the frog to take him across the
river on his back. “You can’t be serious, dude. No way
I’m taking you across,” said the frog. “You’ll sting me in
the middle of the river, and I’ll die.”
“But I would die too,” said the scorpion, “So why would
I do that? That would be silly - suicidal.”
This made sense to the frog, so the scorpion hopped
on his back and off they went. And wouldn’t you know
it, in the middle of the crossing the scorpion stung the
frog. Staring at the scorpion in sheer disbelief, the frog
asked, “Why did you do that? Now we are both going
The scorpion answered, “I’m a scorpion and that’s what
scorpions do. We sting. I can’t help myself.”
As the frog took his final breath, he had a last thought
and said, “I should have done a better analysis on
scorpions before I agreed to this.”
In the final “analysis,” once we have made our
evaluations of those people that we spend the most
time with, and who influence us the most, we have a
number of options:
Spend more time with those people that align
with our best interests
Spend about the same time with people we
currently share time with
Spend less time with people we currently share
too much time with
Disassociate with people who are toxic—
and these are bridges we may have to burn
The take home message here is we all would be better
served if we spend more time with people who provide
positive support and influences, and less time with
people who drain our energy – you know, the drama
kings and queens of the world.
I am not a bridge burner—and don’t enjoy burning
bridges. But sometimes I have found it necessary
(for my own sanity, at times) to burn a bridge. After
doing all I could do to rectify a few toxic relationships
over my lifetime with a few people I spent a lot of time
with, I had no alternative. And I did it with as much
compassion, class, and dignity as possible.
In some realms they call it divorce.