We want to be better. The human drive, and in particular the American drive, is one of self-improvement. It’s why our films tell stories of poor men becoming rich and the underdog winning the big game. Self-improvement produces 92,000,000 results in a Google search and eleven billion dollars a year in industry revenue of books, speeches, podcasts, and coaches all claiming to hold the key to unlock your potential. The vast majority of them encourage an egotistical obsession – the solution you’ve been looking for is within you. It’s your habits, your thought patterns, your job that need refining. Emphasis on the isolated self is misplaced – most of us aren’t living alone in a forest cabin, we’re living and working in a community of people constituting a distributed identity.
We exist within many cultures – the global culture connecting us as a species, the country defining our laws and practices, the family giving us traditions. They all play significant roles in our lives, but the culture with the biggest direct impact is the one we create with our friends and coworkers: peer culture. Peer culture dictates our standards, it selects how we spend our free time, it creates our work ethic. If all of your friends jumped off of a bridge – contrary to the hopes of every mother who’s ever asked the question – you probably would too. That’s why it’s essential to create a positive peer culture. If you and the other ducklings are going to swim in a line, make sure it’s the right pond.
I’m not suggesting that you handpick your crew like a fantasy football team, merely that you critically evaluate the people you’re bringing into your life and assess the impact they have on you. It’s only recently that I’ve realized I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by an extremely positive peer culture. My friends push me to be better every day, we engage in a positive competition where ‘good enough’ is never good enough. Our interests are diverse – we’re a team of entrepreneurs, writers, music producers, DJs, accountants, gamers, and comedians but we feed off of each other for creativity and collaboration. The artist draws up a logo for the entrepreneur’s new company, the writer creates a sample for the producer’s new song, and when one of us needs support there’s a set of talented, driven people ready to launch an idea to the next level. When I created this blog my friends went wild promoting it on social media, helping me establish an early readership. When the DJs play a show, we show up and dance harder than anyone there wearing the entrepreneur’s clothing line. Cooperation is absolutely essential to success. Self-improvement doesn’t start with the self, it starts by surrounding yourself with people who constantly challenge you to be your best.