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?