One 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.