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How Does Success Effect Friendships?

Whether you are an entrepreneur growing your own business, a career type moving up the ladder, or a stay-at-home mom (or dad) doing great things in your family and community, you may have noticed that when you begin to succeed – some of your friendships become strained.  What in the world is that about?  Success comes with a price for everyone, but in this article I will explore this challenging phenomenon as it specifically effects entrepreneurs.

If you are an entrepreneur, or if you are considering starting down that path  – it is good to be aware of some of the joys as well as the pitfalls that might come your way.  While it easy to imagine the joys of being an entrepreneur, one pitfall that most people don’t tell you about is that as your business grows (and you become busy and engaged in that process) some of your friends will not be happy for you.  Some of your friends and loved ones might experience jealousy, resentment, and other negative emotions.  Without realizing it, they might be facing a sense of their own inadequacy as they see you grow and thrive.

When you start your own business, you work through many challenges.  You might deal with tight finances, making decisions for which you are completely responsible (no fellow employee or boss to blame it on when it goes south), and having to wear too many hats.  These particular challenges don’t come as much of a surprise.

The surprising “side effect” of experiencing success can come as a shock to your system that could grind your business growth to a stop if you are not prepared for it.  This surprising “side effect” is that friends and family who seemed supportive of you during the dreaming stages of your business (those days when you would get sparkly eyes as you spoke about your passion and ideas that were as of yet, untried) might suddenly seem to turn on you.

You may start to experience little passive-aggressive comments about your business, your personality, your marketing efforts, or your busy lifestyle.  People who are used to thinking of you as “one of their own” or “on their level” see you doing things that they might have liked to do or overcoming fears they might have wanted to overcome and this can cause resentment and negative emotions. 

Understanding why this sometimes happens can take away some of the sting and allow you to cope with a friend’s or loved one’s negative reactions to your success.  “One of the ways in which people benchmark and define success is in terms of distance traveled,” says Steven Berglas, a Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, psychologist and author of The Success Syndrome: Hitting Bottom When You Reach the Top (Plenum Publishing). “That’s why people inadvertently come to resent the success of friends. They use that friend as a benchmark, and when that benchmark is way above their competency, they feel inadequate.”

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have probably dealt with some form of jealousy or resentment when one of our friends or loved ones performed better than us.  Just knowing that this trait runs fairly rampant in the human race can help us respond differently.  So, what should you do when the people around you can’t deal with your success? 

1.  Understand what you are dealing with (jealousy, resentment, fears they will not measure up. . .)

2.  Practice empathy – remember a time in your own past when you felt jealous or resentful that someone close to you did better than you.  Seeing it from their perspective gives you more compassion as you decide how to proceed.

3.  Take an inventory of how you are treating your friends and family and make adjustments if necessary.

4.  Carefully approach the loved one or friend using an “I feel_____” statement.  (“I feel hurt when you tell me that I seem fake now because I’m marketing my business through Facebook.”  If they can hear your feelings and adjust their behaviors to allow for healthy interactions, then you have won back a friend.  If they cannot hear you and get defensive and even more hurtful, you may have to make a very difficult choice – see the next step.)

5.  If the critical remarks and negative comments continue and begin to cause your own success mindset to falter, remove yourself from that person’s negativity when possible.   You may have to take the first step at setting emotional and physical boundaries  which sets limits with the negative person for their own good as well as yours.  If we allow people to continue to criticize, judge, and interact negatively with us, this sends the signal to them that this type of behavior is accepted.  This isn’t good for them.  We all need to know where the boundaries are and that there are consequences for “bad behavior”.

6.  Make new friends who understand the challenges and joys of running their own business.  Proceed with care as you attempt to pick your friends more consciously.  Surround yourself with people who laugh and smile a lot, people who compliment you, encourage you, and who are willing to give you helpful feedback that will bolster your success mindset rather than tear it down. 

In business, as in life, mindset is vital, imperative, crucial.  Guard it lovingly, nurture it, and nourish it with positive and supportive friends and mentors.  If you have a lot of negative friends or loved ones surrounding you, consider getting help with your boundary-setting and mindset nurturing.  Coaching or counseling can provide excellent help with this.


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