If you want to grow and expand, you must associate with people who are one of the following: 

  1. Emotionally smarter than you 
  2. Intellectually/professionally smarter than you 
  3. More successful than you 

Usually No. 3 coincides with No. 1 or No. 2. If you work in a job with peers, and never step out to spend time with people above you, you are stunting your growth. If you come home and only spend time with your kids, you are stunting your growth (you are smarter than them, so it helps them, but it's not helping you grow).

If your spouse stays at home with children every day and has limited adult interaction, they aren't growing and thus you aren't growing through your interactions with them. I'm not saying you can't be happy and feel content being around your children and spouse. You most definitely can. I'm saying that you won't grow professionally as a result of this (assuming you aren't working with people above you at work the majority of the time).

If you sit in your office and work, it may be challenging, but if you aren't being challenged by people smarter than you beyond the actual task, your grow is suffering. There is a difference if during your free time you are playing golf or fishing with people smarter and more successful than you, than if you are the smartest and most successful in the group. 

Even if you think you are only talking sports and the weather, you're not. When you're with more intelligent, successful people the words used are more intelligent, which expands your brain.

The way they look at common situations may be more unique, and the conversation usually evolves beyond sports, weather, or cars to other more stimulating conversations.

If you continually find yourself being the smartest person in your group, expand. It's not easy. If you constantly find yourself hanging out with entry-level people at work, expand. Managers can be friends with their staff, so different levels of people can associate together outside of work.

Again, if at work you spend time with the smartest people the majority of the time, you are growing intellectually. If you are in an office where most people spend their days staring at a spreadsheet and then hang around with less successful people socially, you're limiting yourself.

This is true across all areas of life. In sports and in the classroom. If you compete against the best and associate with the best, you increase your chances of becoming the best. 

Challenge yourself to expand your social network. The most successful people hang out with people they can learn from and be stimulated by. Just hanging out is really more than just hanging out.

The next time you complain you don't make enough money, look at who you associate with and ask yourself if you are the most successful one in the bunch. If the answer comes close to yes, you may have the answer as to why.

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Published on: Nov 16, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.