When you change, all your relationships change

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conflictOne of the unexpected parts of heading towards your right life is discovering that sometimes those around you are not ready, willing or able to see you change.  This can result in disagreements, fracturing or even ending long-term friendships and relationships.

If you are in the process of moving from a corporate employee to an entrepreneur, you will experience an amazing identity shift.  You will change your attitude, challenge long-term beliefs, stretch and grow in new areas, take more of a “center stage” role in public life and possibly totally redesign your life.  This may make those around you very uncomfortable.  Why is this?

  • We usually form relationships around common bonds such as school, work or community functions. You might have a tight group of friends that helped you through the hell of medical or graduate school.  Or you all spent many hours in solidarity against an evil boss, griped about the lack of decent, eligible mates in the dating world, or watched your children grow up together.  As you leave these shared environments, you may find that you don’t have as much in common as you thought you did.  And relationships may fade.
  • Each person in a relationship quickly takes on a specific role.  Maybe you have always been the kind and understanding friend that jumps into action when your friend is in need, providing a shoulder to cry on, a truck to move furniture, or money to get out of a crisis.  If you decide that this role is draining you of energy you need to invest in yourself, and you change it, be prepared for some resentment.  A true clue that this is the case is when someone says “What happened to the (Sue) (Jose) that I used to know?  You don’t act like the same person anymore!”  They are right … and this is good!
  • You might be headed in a direction that freaks out your current circle of friends.  You may be a card-carrying member of the suburbs, clocking in and out of your garage at the same time as your neighbors each day.  When you share your plans to take your family on a year-long tour of the world to complete community service projects, you may see some stunned reactions.  Some friends may think that you have simply lost your mind.  Others may be projecting their own insecurity on you, by thinking “If Ashok isn’t satisfied with mundane suburban life, maybe my life doesn’t have any meaning!”
  • As much as we all talk about wanting to be happy and fulfilled, when you actually are, it can annoy the crap out of those around you.  We bond with each other by our daily gripes.  We start by quipping about the depressing news in the paper, then let the receptionist at work know how bad traffic was, mumble quietly to a co-worker about the lame meeting you have to attend to start your day.  And this is all before 9am.  Can you imagine waking up and smiling at the day ahead of you?  When someone asks you how you are, answering “I am great!  My work is exciting, I have a great relationship with my kids and husband, I love my home, my health is great, and I generally feel like skipping most of the time.”  While wondering which mind-bending cult you joined, your friends will be quietly checking your purse for illicit drugs.  Once they find you are on a natural high, they may quickly tire of your positive demeanor and look for someone else to complain with.

I have had very personal experience with this, seeing a very dear and close circle of friends slip away as my life changed when I moved out of state, got married, had a child and started a new phase of my business.  I can honestly say that losing these friends has been a more painful experience to deal with than any past relationship breakup.  The bond of friendship is very strong, and a big part of our identity is tied up with those that we have spent years talking to, laughing and crying with.  I never intended to let these friendships go, and there is a big part of the process that I will never understand.  But I have come to a place where I accept it, and realize that for whatever reason, it happened.

How can you get through these tough relationship transitions?

  • Communicate clearly and frequently with those around you about the changes that are going on in your life.  Talk about implications to the relationship in terms of time you will be able to be available to the person, things you want to improve or change, and what you need from each other in order to feel good about the relationship.  I think one of the mistakes I made is not being clear that I would not be as available to my friends as when I was single and close by geographically, and that caused real hurt to them when they needed me to be there.
  • Validate that you are moving in the right direction.  If you have done your tough and deep introspective work, you will know the reasons why you are making changes in your life.  You are the only one that knows that this is the right direction.  Your friends may perceive that you are making a bad move that will make you unhappy or unsafe.  Listen to what they have to say, then while you are alone, check deep within your gut and see what is true.  If you feel good about the direction you are heading, that all that matters.
  • Realize that some relationships will not survive the change, and that is OK.  There is something tremendously comforting with knowing people your whole life and sharing a deep history.  But as you think of all the transitions you have gone through, you will see that friends from one phase didn’t always transfer to another.  I am lucky enough to have a great friend that I have known since infancy, one since 4th grade and one since college.  I see these friendships enduring the test of time.  But others will ebb and flow as my life changes.
  • Honor the history you have together.  It can be perplexing and hurtful to lose connection with people you love deeply.  But it will solve nothing to get angry and say many things you regret, which will sour your great memories of time spent together. If you are able, tell your friends how much you appreciate all the years you had together.  If you aren’t talking, write the words down in a journal, or say them in a silent reflection.  I will always, always wish good health and happiness to friends who are no longer in my life.
  • Trust that “your people” will show up for this new phase of life.  There is an awkward stage of transition where some of your old friends may not be available anymore, and you don’t have any new friends that you can relate to.  This is a very lonely place.  Trust in yourself, and keep moving on your path towards your right life.  When you least expect it, new, wonderful people will appear to support and encourage you.

Personal growth comes with pain, no matter how you slice it.  But it is good, healing pain that will serve you in more ways than you can imagine.  Once you move from the flexible body of a caterpillar to the muck you become in a cocoon, there is no going back.  Trust yourself and keep moving.

11 Responses to “When you change, all your relationships change”

  1. When you change, all your relationships change

    One of my favorite bloggers, Pamela Slim at Escape From Cubicle Nationsharedyet another interesting aspect of becoming an Entrepreneur. The shiftin your relationships.Having experienced (ing) first handhow people aro…

  2. murali says:

    Thanks for the posting. Had I read this or this kind of post earlier, my life would have been little easier on me.

    I have been experiencing serious troubles and lack of trust on my work ethic ever since I told my manager (who used to be very friendly) about my plans of bootstrapping a new business. I deeply regret sharing my plans with anybody at work, irrespective of how close they are. Please be careful if you are sharing with friends at workplace. Word gets out pretty fast and not many of them like it. They start assuming lots of things about work ethic and sincerity at work. A very unwelcome change.

    Thanks Pam.

  3. Wanbun Ho says:

    Great post! As a person who travel and work in different countries, I can absolutely relate to the topic. Old and new people are coming in and out of one’s life from different times, circles and activities constantly, regardless whether I remain at the same city. I have since learn to appreciate the time together, no matter how short or long it is. 🙂

  4. Lee Cockrell says:

    Very insightful and true post, and certainly not limited to the business world. I had to learn the hard way that some personal relationships just don’t survive even minor inconveniences. And I had to learn to end friendships that were one sided. I was very lonely at times, and only when I decided to let go of my last few bad friendships did I get over that.

    Strangely, several people I hadn’t talked to in years sought me out to say how great it was to have me as a friend. I’m really not sure what to do about that.

    I think the key is that *quality* of relationship is more important than quantity or length. If you have a good friend for a short time, they’ll still be your good friend the next time you meet.

  5. Lovely post!

    I learned a long time ago that people that you work with in an office are not the same as friends and family. You are only together because of fate. When someone leaves an office it is like they disappear, no matter how many lunches you ate together or hours you sat together in the same room.

    Of all the things I love about being self employed, not having to deal with office politics is at the top of the list.


  6. PunditMom says:

    Thanks so much for this post. It is a good, positive reminder for me.

    I have a hard time letting friendships and relationships go, even when it has become clear that that is the natural course of things sometimes. But you are right –in my heart I know I am headed in the right direction at the moment, even though that makes it difficult, even with some family members who would prefer I stay in a rut similar to theirs so they will have someone to commiserate with.

  7. peter vajda says:

    Great insights! I see in my work how others so frequently lament the successes, life changes of others because they, themselves, are stuck.

    Too, I think there’s something about attachment here. There’s healthy attachment and unhealthy attachment, glomming on, neediness, etc. to people, places, things, etc. The unhealthy apects often surface when change happens.

    When working with one partner of a couple in my coaching work, that person will often ask, how will coaching affect my relationship? My response: you’ll either grow together or you’ll grow apart. The growth or lack of it is a function of how connected, committed, and communicative folks are. It’s critical that people talk and listen, early and often, while change is in process.

    And, I so agree with you that it’s important to do the inner work and listen to your heart. True change, IMHO is not a “mental, logical” decision as much as it is heart-driven. Thanks for an enlightening post.

  8. Managing Change: Do You Think About This?

    Where Have You Experienced This? When one person leaves or enters a group, the dynamics–and group effectiveness–change. Why? Groups–no matter how large or small–are about equilibrium. That equilibrium comes from a balance of power. Over time, we al…

  9. Pam,

    This is simply a great post.

    You’ve sure touched on the whole range of considerations around the issue. Lots of us hesitate to change something because, at some level, we just know that it’s going to cause a shift in relationships and acceptance.

    Your title is a wonderful rule of thumb that everyone could jot on a post-it and put on the refrigerator.

    Even though much of my business is about helping out with change, I got totally blindsided by the issue some years ago.

    After living and working outside of the country, I returned to the area where I grew up. At some type of event–I forget the details–someone introduced me to a visitor from Europe. It was a language I had learned and we began a conversation. Seemed natural to me. At the end of the evening, a few friends as well as a family member ripped me for being “uppity” and showing-off, blah blah blah. I was stunned.

    Yes, the relationships will change. Be prepared!

  10. ann michael says:

    Pam – this is so true. I think one of the hardest transitions has been working from home. My husband works nights and weekends and all of a sudden I was in the middle of his day every day (when I used to be in an office somewhere else). It’s bumpy while you’re developing a new routine – but it’s worth it!

    I have lost touch with a couple of friends too – and there are a few others that now treat me as though I have “vendor germs”. All in all though I have more friends and associates now than I ever did before. It can be tough – but it’s totally worth it!!!!

  11. Keith Handy says:

    I like this one and can relate to it, in spite of not having made the leap financially — because I’ve made lots of leaps in other ways, and have seen friendships take the resulting blow. Most people from my past still identify me with whatever I was doing then, and I suppose the same goes both ways.

    Sometimes … not usually, but sometimes, you will find that an old friend made some kind of leap parallel to yours without either of you realizing it, and you can form a 2.0 version of the friendship based on this common thing you experienced while apart.