The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

© 2015 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

Group of friends taking a selfie with smartphone.When you were a kid, did someone read to you from the timeless classic, Aesop’s Fables? Those stories are ingrained in the fabric of my childhood memories. A favorite is the story of the man who buys an animal and returns it quickly. I had not thought of those stories in a long time, until I recently had a powerful realization. Someone was discounting me because of a particular professional friend I had.

I admire this professional friend for her expertise, her apparent fearlessness, her sparkle, and her dynamic presentations. However, she is weak on completing. Now, I know that I am great at completing and bringing a commitment in on time and beautifully. People who know me know that about me. But we all get new clients sometimes. And this one time, it became clear that someone was afraid that I would not be true to my word because of my association with this woman. We are known by the company we keep. That’s the lesson of Aesop’s Fable of “The Donkey and His Purchaser.” Bringing home a new donkey, the man puts it in a field with his other donkeys. It quickly befriends the laziest donkey. The man returns the new donkey for a refund.

I knew he would be just like the one he chose as his friend.

— Purchaser of donkey in Aesop’s Fable, “The Donkey and His Purchaser”

We can get Reputation Stress, a real drag on our reputations, from who and how our friends are known to be. I know a famous college that won’t allow any fraternities or sororities on campus, because of the reputation those groups have for raucous, drunken parties. Messy friends, arrogant friends, colleagues who swear, colleagues who don’t pay their bills—any of these might cause you to lose a potential client. However, if your known associates are well-dressed, educated, kind, gracious, articulate, thoughtful, productive, on-time, and all serve on the boards of charities, that could paint a different picture.

There is another dimension of this issue: how those we hang around with directly affect us. We can get serious Energy Stress from some people. Recently, my husband had to deal with several groups of clients who solve their discomforts by shouting, swearing, and spitting out how they are not afraid to “take you down.” They elaborate on just how they will fight and hurt you, and they repeat their loud narratives in cycles for 15 minutes at a time. We had three visits from the police in two days because of these tenants. One tenant is great, but all his relatives are shout-swear-fight oriented, and he may lose his lease because of the company he keeps. The neighbors hate the ambiance; that’s why it’s called “disturbing the peace.” And surely these people are a drag on him? Surely they make him worried, tense, and tired, especially when they threaten each other in front of small children and while holding an infant.

The key is to keep company only with the people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

— Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

In lighter ways, are some of your known associates wearing on you, or conversely, energizing you? Are some a drag on your thoughts and feelings, as well as your vocabulary, your ways of relating, your grooming, your ways of handling conflicts? Are some inspiring?

Here’s an exercise to help you take a clear look at the company you keep. Get a pen and paper, or the Notes section of your iPhone or equivalent device. Think of the top few dozen people you see and chose to spend time with, at home, in work, in professional groups, at church functions, and in Meetups. Now make a private list with 2 columns: Lose Energy and Get Energy. List everyone, including your baby granddaughter, and make notes. Do you lose energy or find you have more energy around each person? Do you light up around some and feel dimmed around others? What do you feel and what do you lose or gain around each? Are you embarrassed by some of them? Do you hate their language or their gossip? Do you wish they would eat somewhere other than fast-burger franchises?

Tell me what company you keep, and I’ll tell you what you are.

— Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 16th Century Spanish Writer

List them by groups, also (i.e., soccer club), and really be honest with yourself about how well each group is working for you. Are there those who inspire you, make you laugh, teach you things without even meaning to? Do some send you links to articles you may love, plus collections of uplifting photos? Do your creative juices race whenever you see the way that designer friend dresses or when you see paintings by your artist friend? Does your spirit rise when this one set of friends decides to explore a food truck festival and then walk through a gallery district? Do you feel blank at some people’s small talk, but excited by the lunch chatter of others? These are only a few ways to look at how we lose energy or get energy from other people, how we beggar our energy balance or enrich our energy accounts with our choice of company.

Now you have your list and notes. You are the only person who can live your life. For your pizazz and success, start selecting differently. Chose the people and groups that uplift and energize you the most. Not only will your Energy Stress be less, but as your energy rises, you’ll find your Reputation Stress changing for the positive. Now, be known for the company you keep!

Kebba Buckley Button is a stress management expert and author of the award-winning Kebba booksbook, Discover the Secret Energized You, as well as the 2013 book, Peace Within: Your Peaceful Inner Core, Second Edition. Her newest book, Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, is available through her office. Just email for more info. Like this article? Buy Kebba’s books by clicking the links! Reach the writer at

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1 Response to The Company We Keep

  1. This article really resonated with me. I remember similar advice from Dr. Wayne Dyer––”Surround yourself with like-minded people.” Your blog helped me to make up my mind about finding a new writers critique group, because this one leaves me frustrated and de-energized.


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