Surround Yourself with Excellence


I never really got high school. I didn’t hang out in a clique. I never dated a football player. I wasn’t a prom princess. Looking back, I was a shy introverted teenager who hung out with the math geeks and played Euchre at lunch.

I did have one talent though which prevented me from completely blending into the banality of high school. I built theater stage props. Whenever the school hosted a drama or a play, I was called upon to build or design some aspect of the set.


Designing stage props is not akin to starring in the school play. People don’t tend to applaud the massive tree on stage sculpted for the leading actors to play under. While my fellow high schoolers took their public bows for dramatizing Shakespeare, I spent my artistic energy in a more private manner by building things.

My high school art teacher, Mr. P, appreciated my efforts and solitary work ethic. He often dropped by the set to offer design help or additional art materials. I appreciated my favorite teacher’s acknowledgment. I also appreciated the advice he gave me just before I graduated and ventured off to university. After completing a large theater project, Mr. P told me:

Surround yourself with excellence and you will excel.

I was given this simple advice while standing under a huge stage prop tree I had just built from wood, chicken wire, and papier mache. I didn’t feel surrounded by excellence, but rather covered in grey paint and smelling of glue fumes.

At the time Mr. P’s advice seemed weird. But being a straight A student, I wasn’t about to squander solid advice when given. Looking back I now see how surrounding oneself with excellence can make all the difference in one’s path and outlook in life. This seemingly simple motto has led me down a healthier, wealthier, and wiser course. Here’s how:


I’ve always been attracted to smart people, mostly math and science geeks. Math and science geeks make marvelous friends, colleagues, and lovers. I was never excellent in mathematics or scientific subjects. These courses were often my weakest link in the academic arena. I worked hard in my most challenging subjects, but found excellence by surrounding myself with the most exceptional.

The science types challenged me. They poked holes in my theses, argued against my ideals, and questioned my queries. If I stated something suspect, I was called on it. It wasn’t easy, but I got stronger by surrounding myself with those who excelled in my weakest discipline.

Who are your friends? Who is your lover? Who are your mentors? Take a long hard look at your past and current relationships and you can foresee where you’ll be in the future. Powerful or scary?


I was raised in a frugal family. My mom paid off the mortgage years ahead of schedule. My dad taught me how to budget. I learned to save my money by following my parents’ example. When I got my first job delivering newspapers, my parents set up a savings account for me and educated me in the power of compound interest. I was fortunate to be surrounded by their financial excellence.

After leaving home I continued to immerse myself in all things financial. I hung out with accounting majors at university, I became a ferocious reader of personal finance books, and I spoke with colleagues on how to best set up my retirement account at work. I am a wealthier person today because I have surrounded myself with financially savvy people.

Steering clear of the Jonses and those who live a lifestyle of spending can make all the difference to your bank account. Are your surrounded by spenders or savers? Who’s in your financial network?


I’ve had a lot of careers in my short life. I’ve been a news reporter, a software programmer, a business analyst, and a technical writer (just to name a few). While all these careers branch along different paths, they all have excellence in common. In choosing a career path, I have always sought to work with the most exceptional in any field. I was never the best programmer or journalist, but I learned what it takes to be exceptional by working with people who personify excellence.

When looking for a job or a career, seek to work with only the best. Find the exceptional colleagues who can surround you with the right work ethic and skills to be the best, and you will excel.

Health, Fitness, and Nutrition

Get fit and healthy by eating real whole foods and exercising daily. Writing this out seems like a no brainer. But it’s not. Eating healthier and getting exercise takes conscious effort every single day. Want to get fitter and eat better? Try joining a sports, outdoors, or athletic club. I first discovered what hanging out with healthy and active people can do for one’s physique after joining my university triathlon club. I had never participated in the sport before and wanted to get my wheels spinning and feet wet.

I learned a lot from this experience. Because I surrounded myself with triathletes who led a healthy lifestyle, I too became healthy. I went to bed early, I woke up early for swim practice, I even spent hours on my bike discussing how to eat better. When I joined my triathlete friends for lunch and dinner, we only ate healthy foods and dined in nutritious restaurants. By surrounding myself with those I aspired to be like, I became my inspiration. The excellence of others rubbed off on me. It took some daily effort to get fitter, but a healthier lifestyle became a reality because I learned from others who normalized the activity.

I haven’t won any major triathlon races to date but I’m certainly a better swimmer, cyclist, and runner due to my efforts. I also don’t look half bad in a neoprene wetsuit. 😉

Get the free eBook: Frugal Food & Fitness to learn more on living a healthy lifestyle.

Seeing the Forest For the Trees

It’s been many years since I built that stage prop tree for a high school play. At the time it was a massive undertaking, a huge project. But by accepting the challenge and surrounding myself with an excellent teacher I was able to plant the seeds for my own forest of success. I’ve never considered myself excellent, but I do see areas in my life where I have excelled due to putting myself in the proximity of those who personify excellence.

Do you surround yourself with excellence? Have you ever found good habits or taken advice from someone exceptional? On the flip side, ever feel dragged down by being surrounded by those who do not aspire to excellence?


  1. See My Money August 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I think the same can be said about mentors. Find someone to advise you and offer positive feedback to you. I think the best mentors are found accidentally, but finding those in your field that are successful and willing to help you are great relationships to foster.

  2. Flexo August 28, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I’ve been contemplating the topic of Excellence lately. My guest post on Get Rich Slowly touches my experience with Excellence (with a capital E — when you are compared with the best in the world) and its demands.

    Being close to such Excellence really makes everything else seem mundane sometimes. Sometimes I look at my friends with ordinary lives — and my ordinary life — and a feeling of deep dissatisfaction emerges. Am I settling for something less than what I am capable of?

    Then again, when I am around Excellence, I also feel inferior. I am not this Excellent…

    So there is no way to win. 🙂

  3. Four Pillars August 28, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I love this.

    Now I just need to find some people who are as excellent as I am! 🙂


  4. Marci August 29, 2008 at 6:10 am

    As a child, learning tennis, Mom always said to play against players better than I was if I wanted to improve. It was tough, but I not only learned to apply that to all areas of my life, but I also learned that ‘losing’ is also a learning experience, and once you have learned that ‘losing’ is another form of growing and on the road to improvement (hopefully), then you learn that you do not always have to “win” to be a winner.

    And then of course, there’s that infamous saying, It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you are surrounded by turkeys… or however that goes. If you are surrounded by ‘downer’ attitude people, it does slowly wear off on one… Takes pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and moving on, even tho leaving nice people behind sometimes hurts!

  5. Emily August 31, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Oh my goodness. You just made me cry. I played euchre at lunch in high school and now 12 years later, you just made me realize that all this time, I’ve been a dork. *sigh*

    Seriously, great post!

    And LOL Mike 🙂

  6. […] explains beautifully that we have a better chance to succeed when we surround ourselves with excellence. Mentors, friends, family, and others all directly or indirectly influence our lives, so be mindful […]

  7. Moments of Fame « Funny about Money September 1, 2008 at 5:53 am

    […] from the government. This carnival contains quite a few interesting posts. Squawkfox offers some useful and very positive advice. The Free from Brokes are taking the plunge: Mrs. Free is quitting her job to stay home and raise […]

  8. […] The latest edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance follows the Labor Day tradition of grilling. That One Caveman from One Caveman’s Financial Journey is doing the honors of hosting the barbecue. Here are the Editor’s Picks: Surround Yourself With Excellence […]

  9. […] likes to surround herself with excellence, which I totally agree […]

  10. Sara at On Simplicity September 2, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Oh, you just made me appreciate my husband so much more. Sure, it would nice sometimes to have someone who fawns over me and thinks the sun shines out of my ass, but I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without a talented man who encourages me to rise every challenge.

    And I never would’ve made the connection with healthy eating here; thanks for making that explicit for us health dummies. I can imagine it would be *way* easier to go for healthy options if the person next to me wasn’t scarfing down cheese fries…

  11. Eden September 6, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    That’s some great advice and something I really need to work on. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about finding a mentor to help me figure out my career and I would really like to find some more friends who are interested in getting fit and getting out of debt. Unfortunately, most of my current friends just think I’ve gone a little nutty. 🙂

  12. […] talks about surrounding yourself with excellence.  Have you ever noticed how most successful people seem to associate with other successful […]

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