Rumor has it you become like those you spend time with. Or "birds of a feather flock together", or "you are what you eat". Maybe that last one was Hannibal Lector, having an old friend for dinner. Anyway, the person that you are is influenced by the people you spend time with. Ditto for me. There are three kinds of people you can spend time with: real people who know you just as you know them, real people who do not know you, but you know them, and imaginary/fictitious people who have never existed.
We'll come back around to that last category in a minute. I am not insane.
There are people who I know, who know me, that I seek out to spend time with. I call them mentors. Some of these relationships have popped up out of nowhere (thanks, Wayne), while others have been more formal. (Think paid counseling.) You should seek these people out, because the value you can derive from these relationships is nearly endless. Life changing. Seriously.
Real people who I know but don't know me, I'll call role models. They are people that, for some reason or another, I want to emulate. It is important to specify the way I want to emulate these people. An easy example is Chris Sharma - an amazing rock climber, but sort of looks like he's stoned all the time. I want to climb like him, not communicate like him.
Other examples: books and blogs by or about noteworthy figures (why they are noteworthy is entirely up to you) make up the bulk of this category.
Literary Role Models
In high school and college, we all had to read high quality literature. If you were like me, you didn't much care to read this stuff, for a variety of reasons. Since I've finished college, I've dug back into books (and learned more for less than I ever did in college - that's another discussion all together.) but I've enjoyed both non-fiction and fiction.
When I read fiction, some times it's classy (think of a famous dead author - he's classy) and sometimes it's not as classy, but still interesting. No matter how classy or non it is, when you spend a few hours immersed in a world of the author's creation, you're spending time with the individuals in that book. If you "spend time" with people who wrestle with hard problems and make good decisions and generally conduct themselves in an honorable, respectable way, you are surrounding yourself with people who make good decisions and conduct themselves in an honorable and respectable way.
Another title for "literary role models" is "imaginary friends". Don't judge. They influence you, they've just never had a physical existence.
Why Friends Matter
I am now going to lump all three categories above into a bucket named "friends". These categories differ from your normal, every day friends in at least one specific way: You must seek them out. Only one of these groups of people (physical people who know you) can influence you without your permission. Think of a text from a friend - you didn't ask for it, but you're being influenced by its content. In the other two categories, you must seek out that person (or literary figure), and intentionally expose yourself to their influence.
Much of your family life you don't have much control over. Nor do you have control over where you went to school, or the friends you once had. Your past cannot be changed. Your present is mostly a function of your past. Your future, on the other hand, is up for grabs. If you are not intentional about influencing your future, you won't do much about influencing your present context, and, therefore, your future will largely be determined by your past.
Bear with me.
If you want to influence your future, but you're not sure how you want to do so, consider spending time with those you want to emulate. You can emulate a professional painter not because he's a painter, but because he's a professional. You can emulate an amazing teacher not because he's a teacher, but because he's amazing. You can emulate a real estate investor not because they know real estate, but because they have figured out how to turn one dollar into two dollars. You can emulate a Buddhist monk not because they're a monk, or a Buddhist, but because they are content. You can emulate a passionate computer programmer not because they are a computer programmer but because they are... passionate.
You can choose who you spend time with, who you emulate. If you're not ready to follow around a physical person to be more like them, you can follow around a digital one or an imaginary one. Find out who's influenced them, and go be influenced by them.
Whatever you do, please, find some quality in some person to emulate. Expose yourself to that quality, to that person (without exposing yourself in the criminal sense) and you'll find yourself slowly gaining more and more influence over your future.
I will soon discuss my mentors, role models, and imaginary friends. I have dozens, if not hundreds. Literally nothing that comes out of my mouth or rattles around in my head is original, and I'd be a fool to pretend otherwise.
Do you have mentors, role models, or imaginary friends?