I broke up with my high school boyfriend of five years at 19 years old. I was transferring to a different college and moving away. I had outgrown our drama-filled relationship and wanted the freedom to find myself. I was also becoming an adult and starting to (finally!) fully realize that the way he treated me was not the way I wanted to be treated.
I was off interning for then-senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling to Barbados, Ecuador, Nigeria and France to study and do volunteer work, and otherwise having a very exciting and adventurous college experience. When I returned home to my old neighborhood, it was so much fun to spend the summer reconnecting with all of my old friends. I also reconnected with my high school boyfriend. We were “just hanging out,” I told my friends (they all knew better).
One night we were “just hanging out” and he asked me to join him and a friend for a ride into the city. I can’t remember what we were planning to do or where exactly we were going (probably to a restaurant or bar to eat and hangout). All I can remember is crossing the bridge into Manhattan and shortly thereafter hearing sirens go off behind us. We were being pulled over.
And that’s when I learned exactly why I had had an uneasy feeling about this whole evening.
As the driver started to pull over he revealed that he had a gun in the car. An illegal, unlicensed handgun under his seat. Here’s what this meant: if the police decided to search the car and found the gun, we would all being going to jail. Nevermind that it wasn’t my gun and I knew nothing about it when I got in the car. This had happened to other people I knew, and the protocol was to arrest everyone in the car.
I was in a trance, as I watched the policeman walk over to the car and talk to the driver. All I could see was my future as a lawyer (the dream I had been working towards since I was about eight years old) disappearing before it had even begun. All of my hard work in high school and college wasted due to one bad decision on a warm summer night.
I sat there frozen, trying to look nonchalant, but scared shitless and totally pissed at myself for being in that car and not following my intuition.
The police office started to ask my ex-boyfriend questions and then he looked over at me in the backseat and started to ask me questions. I put on the performance of my life, acting like it was no big deal that we were pulled over, who knows if it was any good. After what felt like an eternity of Q&A and the cop going back and forth to his police car, and even a little back and forth tiff between the cop and my ex as I sat in horror and disbelief (‘WHY ARGUE WITH THIS COP? HAVE YOU NO PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?’), he let us go.
By the time we pulled away, I was a different person. A person who now recognized the value of her own life and dreams.
In those few minutes, I learned that I needed to be a whole lot more selective about the company I keep. I learned that even if I love someone, I could do so from afar and not spend time with them, if it was detrimental to my own well-being. I got out of the car a few blocks later and vowed to never, ever get myself into a situation like that again.
The company you keep can literally make or break you. The influence that the people you spend time with have on you is incredibly powerful. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you choose to spend your time with. Nowadays, I spend my time with positive, loving people who are supportive of my dreams and who are going after their own dreams. They inspire me, advise me, cry with me, grow with me and make me a better person, mother, wife, friend and entrepreneur.
Here’s an exercise to try: write a list of the top 20 people you spend the most time with and ask yourself, “are these people helping me grow and be a better me? Or are they preventing me from becoming the person I want to be?” Don’t be afraid to love someone from afar for the sake of your own life.
PS: When you make a decision to stop spending time with people who aren’t good for you, you create space for new people who are good for you to come into your life. Soon I’ll be sharing details about how you can come to North Carolina to hang out with me and 100 other amazing entrepreneurs this Fall. Join my mailing list for all the deets. Who knows? You may meet your new best friend!