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MCLEOD: Why peers matter

I'm the worst waterskier in my family.

My younger brother whips back and forth like a pro, hitting the outside buoys on the slalom course and leaning sideway until he's practically parallel to the water.

My Dad has been a hot shot skier since he was 8.

When I was in second grade, my Dad bet one of his buddies that he could waterski in a suit, without getting it wet.

How a person comes up with these kind of ideas, I don't know. All I can say is, it was Macon, Ga., in the 1970s.

The kids and parents gathered on the red clay beach of Lake Tobesofkee as my Dad strode out of the public restroom in a tan, three-piece poly-blend leisure suit.

He sauntered to the shoreline, rolled up his pants to the knees, picked up the towline and stepped into the waterski he had positioned half-in, half-out of the water. He coiled up some slack in the towline and with my mom driving the boat, yelled, "Hit it!"

Spewing sand in his wake, he took off, whipping around the lake at 40 mph in a leisure suit.

After a few turns they headed back. Dad jumped the wake, swung himself toward the beach, dropped the towline and sped for the shore, ending the run by jamming the nose of the ski into the shoreline, stepping out of it and swaggering over to his friend to collect his five bucks.

Thereby cementing his status as a legend: The Dad Who Can Waterski in a Leisure Suit.

He barefoot-skied well into his 50s and at 70 he could still make the outside buoys on the slalom course.

I, on the other hand, can barely make the inside buoys. Try as I might, I've never been as good as my Dad or brother.

So when friends invited us to join them for a day of waterskiing, I said, "Sure, qualified it with, "I'm not that good."

"No problem." the wife said. "My husband is really good, the rest of us just have fun."

When we got out on the boat the husband said, "Why don't you go first?"

So I grabbed the ski, tossed it into the water and jumped in.

"Wait," he said, "You forgot the other ski."

"No." I said, "I just need the one."

Their jaws fell open. During the entire time that we were talking about who was good and who wasn't, they were talking about skiing on two skis. I was talking about one ski.

For the first time in my life, I had the rare and glorious experience of being the best athlete in the group.

Skiing with my family, I was the middle-aged mom who couldn't do tricks and struggled to make the outside buoys. With this crew I was a water-skiing rock star slicing her slalom back and forth across the wake.

It was a great lesson about how much your peers influence your perceptions.

When you hang out with people who are great, you underestimate your skills. On the flip side, I bet that husband thought twice before bragging about his waterski prowess.

Here's what I took away -- When it comes to waterskiing, I'm going to spend more time in the slow lane.

But when it comes to business, I need to hang out with people who are exploding out of the water.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post "Top Five Book for Leaders."