Michael Miller inner circle

Defining and Reevaluating Your “Inner Circle” To Advance Your Career

Are you surrounding yourself with the correct people?

It’s a simple enough question but without deep introspection it is tough to decipher the correct answer. On the surface it may appear that your friends, family or coworkers are great… but are they really helping you achieve your career vision?

Your career “vision” is what you truly want to do with your life. You must listen to your intuition, ignore what others think of it and build a career that will make YOU happy.

So the question I want you to start thinking about is; “Are the people that I spend the most time with, actually supporting me and my career vision?”

This one question has transformed my life and it can do the same for you if complete the exercise at the bottom of this post.

So why did it change my life?

Despite being a generally positive and happy person, there have been times in my life where I’ve sunk into a depressed state. Times where I felt lost and like I wasn’t leading the life I was meant to.

If you want to imagine one of these states, the best way I can describe it is this; it’s like being stuck in a deep, dark well with no rope to climb out and no light. You are completely alone, blind to all possibly escapes and unable to use your own strength to climb out.

Whenever I was in one of these states, my creativity and work quality suffer, as well as my personal life. Many of us feel like this when we are trying to get a job, start a company, build a relationship or figure out what we want to do with our lives.

It wasn’t until a recent interaction, that I understood part of the reason why I entered these depressed states as well as why I was able to get out of my metaphorical well. (some people remain in the dark their entire life)

My wonderful mentor and friend had listened to Drew Houston, the CEO of Dropbox with a net worth of $400 million, deliver MIT’s commencement address. She emailed me his speech in written format as she thought it would have a positive impact on my life.

The speech was extremely thoughtful and insightful, highlighting what he thought had made him successful.

She was lucky enough to meet him afterwords and described him to me; “The interesting thing was how down to Earth Drew is. I got great pleasure as I observed him in a crowd. He seemed to enjoy being in the world. When he left, he came over and shook my hand and gave me a huge smile. I felt so special. It was really touching.”

Being “present” is a topic for another day but it’s easy to tell that Drew has put major effort into learning more about himself and what will make him happy in life.

This was even more evident when he sited a quote by Jim Rohn that I felt was the most important part of the speech; “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. [1]

I thought deeply about this quote and realized that it was true. The personal and career progress I had made was directly related to the people who I spent the most time with. The most of the massive improvements I’ve made in my life were because I spent more time with amazing people.

This is the type of introspection that I’m asking you to do in my inner circle exercise. It will help you figure out what changes you need to make to start progressing forward and never fall into the well again.

Defining Your Inner Circle

Step 1:
Grab a piece of paper and pen and write down a list of the 5-10 people you spend the most time with. These may not be the people you like the most, it’s just important that you are honest with yourself. This is your inner circle.

Step 2:
Then I want you to write down a little bit about them. (you can just write down adjectives if you want)

What do they do for a career? What traits do they have that you desire to adopt? What is important to them? What are they like as a person?

Step 3:
Now the hard part; I want you to put a star next to the people who are negative, unambitious or just don’t “get you”.

This part of the exercise can be painful.

This was when I figured out why I had previously entered my depressed states and why I had a hard time getting out of my well. I didn’t have enough of the right kind of people in my life; people who understood my struggles, people who would push me to do more with my career and help me get closer to my vision.

Did I have a lot of great friends that cared about me?


But sometimes that’s not enough. That’s why step 2 is so important. You need to figure out if their vision is aligned with the one you want for yourself.

By surrounding yourself with people who hold characteristics you admire and who ant to have a positive impact on the world, you will improve drastically. After changing my inner circle, struggles that had previously put me in down into that well, were no longer a problem. Someone in my inner circle had faced similar struggles and was there to teach me how to overcome them. I learned how to climb out of the well almost immediately.

So while I have sacrificed spending time with people I truly enjoy, I find myself happier because I am closer to achieving my vision.

Step 4:
It’s time to do the same thing I did. Write down a list of 5 “enablers” you know that you could build a stronger relationship with. These are typically people you respect or strive to be like. They may be people you know but aren’t that close to or they may be people you know of and haven’t personally met.

Step 5:
Time to surround yourself with these enablers. Write down places where you think more of these types of people hang out.

When I did this, I thought of a number of good places to meet like-minded people but also decided there weren’t enough opportunities, so I started an event series with my good friend, Taylor Jacobson, to gather together groups of awesome individuals.

I’d suggest finding events like these to meet your own type of enabler.

Step 6:
Write down three actions you can take THIS WEEK to meet these people or build stronger relationships with ones that you already know.

You will aspire to be like many of these people and may even want them to become your mentor, but it’s of CRUCIAL importance that you treat everyone as your equal. You are just as valuable as any other human on this planet. The fact that someone has achieved more and seen more “success” does not make them your superior. It just means that they’ve had more time than you.

If you can put yourself in this mindset, it will allow you to befriend these high performers and add value to their lives. When you start doing this, you will notice your career and life start to improve, just as mine has.

What if I don’t want to stop spending time with the people I love?

For a long time, I was unwilling to face the reality that I needed to stop spending so much time with the people that weren’t aligned with my career vision. I didn’t want to make any sacrifices and thought “I can do both.”

I went months without progress.

Finally, I came across one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It snapped me out my limiting mindset, I took action and it changed my life.

So I have this piece of advice for you: act differently and you will be one step closer to achieving your career vision.


In the comments below let me know what actions you’re going to take to change your life.


References, Footnotes, and Commentary

[1] Drew Houston’s MIT Commencement Address (June 2013)