Because you only grow up in expertise when you mix with people that are better than yourself in a particular area of knowledge, it can be easily understood the importance of using the limited available time wisely. It is mandatory (if you want to improve) to spend time with people that make you grow, rather than with people that just waste your time and sink you into deep waters.
I am aware that this could sound a little bit like a “Nazi manifesto”, but is not at all. I firmly believe that everyone excels in something, and therefore no one should be measured just by the performance displayed in one particular field.
As the said says: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Or in other words: maths could be not your thing, but you could be an exceptional writer. Hence using a fixed rule to measure performance is not how life works, and the reason why some people that underdelivered academically in his/her early years, lately overpass in achievements those that did. They were simply measured wrongly. Once life moves on and goes from the school desks to the real day to day life, is when people that did not do well at school (but had another life skills) have an opportunity to glow up.
Normally they always take advantage to demonstrate their real potential, because they were frustrated at school, and that stuck to themselves. Therefore when they have the chance to demonstrate that they were not stupids (just measured by criteria not suitable for them), they embrace it as an opportunity and they normally crush it.
Following up on the above (the importance to be measured by your own parameters), there are two things that become utterly important:
1) Knowing by heart which one is your area of interest.
2) Acknowledging the importance of choosing the right people to mix with (at least if you want to keep improving and progressing).
About determining your area of interest. That is a simple question.
The only person that can know what is your favorite area of interest is yourself. You have to be rawly self-honest, but identifying what motivates you is simple: your area of interest is that thing that ignites your passion. That particular thing that makes your time fly, and makes you forget about the environment that surrounds you. Name it writing, programming, reading or cycling. When you feel that your heart beats intensively and happy, you will know that what you are doing at that time is “one of your things”
About mixing with the right people. That is a slightly more complicated question to reply, but actually simple when you remove the emotional variable.
Who are them, the right people? The right people for improving your development are those in your area of interest that are slightly better than yourself on that particular topic that you like and share their knowledge and passion.
Feeling the smarter guy in the room does not normally mean that you actually are, it only means that the circle you have selected is wrong for your development. Because it is a fact that if you mix all the time with people that are worst than you, you will never grow up.
It is also a fact that if you mix with people that have much more level than yourself doing something, it could be daunting and discouraging. So there is a thin balance line here. You need to mix with people that are better than you, but not to the point that you feel intimidated by them.
And where are those people?
Is difficult to find those persons randomly. Is barely impossible that you walk into a bar and find them. Those persons are pursuing her passions currently, or they are dead and pursued their passions in the past (and wrote everything they knew in books).
So where can you find them?
1) On the Internet.
What a marvelous thing Internet is. You can have an interest in a weird subject, and still find forums, wikis, and posts about “your thing”. Internet forums are a good place to find the right people, and to make good contacts among them. People that share your same interests are there, and you can really learn from them. Also, social networks used carefully can put you in contact with brilliant people, so they are not a tool to totally be dismissed.
Books are like the Internet of the past, and also the place where authors put their condensed knowledge. A book is normally knowledge pearls or distilled knowledge. In an era where we have all the data reachable just a few keyboard clicks away, it is becoming more and more important to process data and convert it into useful information. Good books are good precisely at that: “converting raw data into information” The author of a book normally puts a lot of effort into writing it, so you can expect to have a lot of information per page. Books are incredibly powerful. Read the right book and you could end up being transformed forever.
3) Specialized magazines.
I have been a big fan of magazines my whole life, and I still think that they are useful to some extent. A good specialized magazine can cover in deep topics that are appealing to yourself. Just be careful picking the right magazines and subscribe just to those that really have something to contribute.
And remember, keep your passion, never let other people tell you what you have to do or like, and once you find your passion, give it all .