I’ve often shared how becoming a champion starts with seeing yourself as one. And why not? That’s how God sees you.

Experiencing victory, however, depends on you. It takes commitment, courage, determination, sacrifice, and surrender. You must move out of your comfort zone and do the work. Nobody else can do it for you.

As you move toward victory, it’s essential to consider your surroundings. Here’s a practical example from my water-ski career. After graduating from high school, I moved from North Carolina to Florida to train year-round in warmer weather.

Moving, however, required me to leave my familiar surroundings. No longer would I have my parents to coach me or my brother to drive the boat. Plus, I was leaving our private facility, Lake Kristi, that my parents had built for me. It was a perfect training site. Nonetheless, I knew moving was necessary if I wanted to train with the best in the world.

So, with the help of my parents, I sought out a healthy support system in Florida. I found an elite coach who would push me out of my comfort zone, and I made sure his lake was challenging. Training in calm, easy conditions wasn’t going to help me win against the world’s best on the rough rivers of the pro circuit. I needed to do some tough training if I wanted to climb the championship podium.

I also needed to surround myself with people of excellence. That meant finding training partners who would push me beyond my current abilities—and boy, did they! Those four guys didn’t cut this girl any slack, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

For years, I had trained with people at or below my level, and I had grown mentally and physically stagnant. I needed a push from a fresh crew and a new training regimen. Those top male athletes were just the ones to do it.

Their performances were much higher than mine, which was initially intimidating. But once I embraced the challenge, I found I could do so much more, on and off the water. It was time to grow as an athlete.

These guys trained in unbelievably tough conditions—wind, rain, and rough water. And they trained just as hard off the water, in the gym. Seeing their commitment, courage, and success led me to get off the dock when otherwise, I would have stayed in the lake cabin eating Pop-Tarts.

Being surrounded by greatness fueled a fire in me, and I started emulating how they trained. As a result, I became the number-one-ranked female water-skier in the world and posted performances that ranked with the top male skiers.

I say all that to say this: to be a champion, you must place yourself in surroundings conducive to greatness. And you must put yourself in the company of winners—this is true in every area of your life.

You become what and who you hang around with. First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good character” (NLT). If you hang around with chumps in chumpy places (spiritually or physically speaking), you will also become a chump.

But a chump is not who you were created to become. You were made in the image of Almighty God, and He doesn’t make chumps. He makes champions, and it’s never too late to become one.

Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God has plans for victory for you, but whether you experience them or not is determined in part by your circle of influence.

King David, a shepherd boy who de­feated a giant and became a king, made daily choices regarding his surroundings. His choices led him to God’s winner circle. Let’s read Psalm 101 (NLT).

I will sing of your love and justice, Lord. I will praise you with songs. I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. I will search for faithful people to be my companions. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me. I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

In this psalm, we see David praising God, but we also see the daily choices he made to live a life worthy of a child of God. (See also Philippians 1:27; 4:4–9.) While he was not a perfect man, David was a champion in both public and private places.

He made choices behind closed doors to keep his heart and mind pure. He also protected his eyes (the gateway to the soul) by refusing to look at anything vile and vulgar. (See also Matthew 6:22–24.) David ensured his surroundings were conducive to a godly lifestyle—the life of a true champion.

But also notice that David surrounded himself with other champions. He had nothing to do with people who dealt crookedly with others, and he didn’t tolerate prideful and hurtful people. Instead, he found faithful people who were full of integrity to be his companions and only allowed people above reproach (those with good reputations) to serve him.

David protected his surroundings and kept himself away from liars and deceivers. He exposed wicked people and pushed them out of his presence and the city.

Like David, we must be proactive in how we live and who we live among.

Of course, you could say, “But, Kristi, evil people are around every corner. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

I wouldn’t argue with you. Evil does surround us. You might even be in prison or a workplace where being a believer puts you in the minority. That doesn’t mean you should lose hope.

Ask the Lord to show you godly people and new places you can go. Proverbs 3:6 says if you seek God’s will, He will show you which path to take. God will show you what to do and who to be around. He promises He will help you.

Just as there are evil people, there are godly people near you too who are determined to live above reproach. They are full of integrity and have a good reputation. They are serious about changing and committed to growing in faith. Search for them and join them.

When you do, bring something to the group. Don’t just be a taker; be a giver of what you have. Bring enthusiasm, eagerness, integrity, commitment, and faithfulness. I’m sure that when I was training, my desire to learn, my steady improvement, and loyalty to my mentors pushed them to new levels on the water too.

Take a moment to consider your peer group. Is who you hang around with who you want to become? If not, then it’s time to make a change.

How about your surroundings? Will the places you hang out and the people you hang out with fuel the champion in you and lead you to victory? Or will they cause you to remain stagnant or pull you into defeat?

Your surroundings and your peer group are vital for success, especially for those reentering society. Victory never just happens; you must plan for it. Take time to consider where you should live and who you should live among. Pray and ask God to direct your steps.

With His help, the right environment, and a good support system, victory will be yours.


Kristi Overton Johnson encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.