Some People Are Too Small To Fit Into Your Big Story

Recently, my friend Carol called to celebrate the new promotion she’d received. As she shared about her big new office, smart team, and demanding new department heads, I noticed something odd in how she was relaying all the information. I asked her how she truly felt about her new position, and she admitted to feeling guilty about it. It wasn’t that she didn’t think she had earned the promotion. Instead, she felt like her friends from her old department were more jealous of her than happy for her. Some part of her wondered if it was okay for her to move up while they stayed behind.

Unfortunately, Carol’s experience is not unique. I remember sitting in first class seat on my way down to Los Angeles. As the plane boarded, I noticed some of the people walking down the aisle making comments to the young man sitting next to me. About every tenth person would say something ranging from “Oh, look at you!” and “I’m so jealous” to the more negative “What do you think you’re better than us now?” and “Ah man, you suck.”

I leaned over and asked the man if he worked with these people. It turned out his whole office was heading down to LA for a week long off-site. I learned the young man’s name was Adam, and that he had snagged a cheap last-minute upgrade just like me. As we talked, Adam was very gracious at fielding all the teasing and jibes that were slung at him as the plane filled.

Towards the end of boarding Adam’s boss texted him. He was sitting in first class, too, a row in front and across the aisle. Adam’s boss noted in their text exchange that not a single person had given him any grief. He told Adam not to let it bother him because he was impressed that Adam had taken full advantage of the upgrades available to him. And besides, his boss texted, “What do you care what they think? You’re in first class!”

What struck me about this exchange on the plane wasn’t that not a single person teased the boss about sitting in first class. It was that, by teasing Adam, his colleagues were sending him subtle (or not so subtle) signals that, in their mind, he was operating above his station. Subconsciously, Adam’s colleagues — some of whom he called “friends” — would rather attempt to sabotage his experience of first class, then congratulate or praise him for taking action to upgrade. They were looking at Adam in his old “flying coach” persona and wanted relate to him in the way that felt comfortable to them. They wanted to cut him back down to “their level,” rather than accept him as someone who “deserved” to sit in first class.

Another person might have taken the experience poorly, allowing guilt to wallow up inside them. But Adam brushed it off. He understood that — no matter what his friends said or thought — he was still having the experience he signed up for, and he was determined to enjoy it to its fullest.

The same dynamic was showing up with Carol and her new promotion. Her work “friends” had yet to adjust to her new position and the status it gave her within the company. So while consciously they were happy for her new promotion, subconsciously their comments were working to bring her back down to their level — back to her “old life,” where they felt more safe to interact with her.

I asked Carol if, given a choice, she would rather have those people as her friends or have the promotion. Without skipping a beat, she said of course the promotion. Her career and the opportunities it provided her were far more important to her than some work friends. As she realized this truth, her guilt dissipated. Like Adam on the airplane, it no longer mattered to Carol what those people thought, because after all, she was in the place she wanted to be!

Is there a goal you have for your life that your friends or family say they support, but deep down may resist? How have your actions and decisions (your enjoyment of your successes) been impacted by that resistance when it shows up? How might you act differently, if you choose not to let their limiting beliefs get in your way?

“No matter how good you are, someone is always going to be against you. But never let them be the limit of your success.” – Terry Mark

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