Open thread: Getting support from family and friends
Okay, this is going to be an open thread because while I have things to say on this subject, I have little in the way of actual advice. (Or, to be more accurate, I have plenty of unproven advice, since I can pontificate on any subject at will.) So let’s provide some talking points and then open it up for discussion.
In generally, personally, I like to err on the side of self-sufficiency. When asked the question
How can I get my friends and family to support me as I grow and change?
I think, “Learn to live without it.” That’s not a hugging moment, I know. Pragmatism is one of my superpowers.
When I started my first company, I was 22. My friends were not super excited about my goals. Neither was my family. I heard a lot of variations on this: “Ugh, you work too hard! You should quit doing that and get a regular job so you can go out and have fun! You’re only 22! Lighten up!” And also this: “This isn’t why you went to college to get that valuable English Lit degree! Get a job and save some money! You can start a business in a few years, maybe, if things work out…”
That wasn’t very supportive. But, then again, why should they support me? How was my working 60 hours a week for very little money benefiting them?
When you decide to do something new, you are starting down a path of growth and change. In general, the people around you like you just the way you are. That’s why they’re friends with you. And if they’re related to you, then they’re very comfortable with you the way you are — you have a defined personality and a defined role in the family. Why would they want you to change and shake everything up? If you change, they might be forced to change, too. Your change is liable to shift the whole dynamic of the group. They can sense it in the air, like Disney animals before a forest fire.
If you change — if you seek something more out of life — there is a subtext of you being dissatisfied with the life you have now. No spouse wants to hear you say you are dissatisfied, ever. And your friends are thinking, “What’s wrong with how you are now? You’re just like me! So if you think you need to change, what you’re really saying is that *I* need to change. So, what? You think you’re better than me now?”
(Now, maybe you have a really supportive spouse and family and friends, in which case, see you next week. You are very lucky. No one wants to hear about that. Unless you magicked them that way, then please stay and detail your methods.)
For a lot of us, our desire to do something different — our growth and change — will be met not with flag-waving and excited jumping up and down but with resistance and maybe a little suspicion.
Your spouse may be a bit discombobulated by you wanting something different. You may have the sort of friends who say “well, good for you” while passively-aggressively torpedoing your efforts. (“I know you’re on a diet, but I baked us a cake” or “I know you want to write that book but I need you to come out with me tonight because I’m depressed about work”).
How to Get Support from Your Friends and Family: Unproven Advice
If you can sit down with your spouse and articulate your goals for your children — and if those goals include supporting them to explore their interests and develop their talents — then it shouldn’t be a big leap to applying the same support to each other. But you may have a spouse who is happy with things the way they are and nervous about you rewriting the script — because you changing changes everything: the family dynamic, the relationship, how you see yourself, how you see your spouse, how your spouse sees you. Acknowledge this to yourself: You changing might freak out the people you love. They may need time and help to adjust.
Be aware that you are doing something that has no clear value for them, therefore they may not enthusiastically get behind it, flag-wave, and etc. Not that everyone you know is a selfish bastard, but it’s pretty much built into our DNA to chase rewards and avoid punishment — and a big win for you offers no discernable reward for them and probably a little punishment.
Think about it:
- They like you the way you are now — or at least they’re used to you the way you are now.
- If you change, they might be forced to change, even a little, and that sounds not fun.
- If you grow, they might not feel good about themselves — you might look better or make more money or get a lot of attention.
- You may have awoken long-dormant feelings of competitiveness — they suddenly feel the need to knock you down a peg or two.
- They suffer from “there’s only so much pie” syndrome — if you get more, it means less for them.
- They suspect they’re going to have to give something up for you to get what you want.
- Your wanting something different for yourself makes them feel judged and criticized.
People think mostly about themselves. When you say “I want to go back to school,” they hear “I’m going to be smarter and better educated than you — and maybe make more money, too! MAYBE YOU CAN WORK FOR ME.”
You are stretching and challenging yourself. Obviously what you’re doing is going to stretch and challenge the people around you — whether they like it or not. You are facing fears and taking risks — those people are being dragged along for the ride and they are vicariously having to face fears and take risks, whether they’re comfortable with it or not. You are choosing this for yourself — they didn’t choose it.
Maybe it would help to show the other person the clear advantages that await. To your spouse: “I’ll be working on this a few evenings a week so I won’t complain about how much X-Box Live you’re playing.” To your friends: “I’ll totally let you ride in my limo.”
Maybe it’s best to share your goals incrementally. Rather than saying, “I plan to be a bestselling author and live in a mansion made of gold,” you could say, “Writing makes me feel happier and less likely to stab someone with a fork, so I’m going to try to do it a little more often.”
Try not to run yourself down — because sure as shootin’ someone is going to hear that and apply it to themselves. (Remember the rule: People think mostly about themselves.) If you say, “I hate being fat and out of shape,” they hear “She thinks I’m fat and out of shape — and she hates me!” If you say, “I hate just lying around on the couch watching stupid reality TV,” they think “But I love reality TV — she thinks I’m stupid and my life is stupid.”
Instead of expecting everyone to enthusiastically sign up for whatever it is you want to do, accept that you’ll probably make some new friends specific to that interest. You’ll find a writing friend or two or three. You’ll find someone to walk with. You’ll meet people who care about this thing that you care about. So you don’t have to try to force your friends and family to care about it.
“Surround yourself with people who have ambitious plans, meaningful purposes, and big goals. Even if their goals are different from yours — and they probably will be — you’ll feed off their energy, and they’ll feed off yours. — Jeff Haden
When we get excited about making positive changes in our lives, sometimes we start sharing all our great feelings with the people around us — and instead of being inspired, they feel criticized. So maybe don’t drag your soapbox around for handy sermons on whatever it is you’re excited about. They’re your friends, not your audience. They’re your loved ones, not your followers.
When you do need support, be very clear and specific. Do you really need your spouse to believe 100% in your historical romance novel? Or would it be enough if s/he took the kids to the park for two hours every Sunday so you can write? Instead of getting angry and upset that he or she isn’t “supporting you,” ask for something that would make you feel supported.
Instead of resenting your loved ones for not cheerleading you, find a few new friends who actually want to talk about photography or writing or starting a new business for hours on end. Look for people who share your enthusiasm and build a community where you can support each other. That doesn’t mean dumping your old friends — actually, finding new friends to whom you can safely vent your passion may allow your old friendships to stay healthy.
Remember that you are modeling for your children not only how to grow, change, learn, make, and do, but how to build a support system for yourself. That support system includes your environment, your habits, your routines, and your relationships.
If your child has a bunch of friends from soccer and he’s interested in filmmaking, would you want him to squelch that interest because his friends aren’t into it? Or would you encourage him to keep his old friends but make some new friends around that new interest? You are showing your child how to connect with people who have similar interests and make supportive friendships — but also how to maintain good relationships even when you don’t have every single thing in common.
Build yourself a support system. Learn to support yourself. Ask your spouse for very specific (and reasonable) things that will help you make progress. Allow your friends and family time to adjust to the new you. Don’t expect them to care about what you care about, and don’t be negative about your old life and your old interests. Let them see you happy, but don’t preach to them about your new passion — wait until they ask, then share.
So what do you think? Are your spouse, family, and friends supportive of your goals? Do you have suggestions or ideas to share for getting them on board? Please share your thoughts!