Don’t be shocked that your family is kryptonite to your superpowers

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Many of you in the U.S. may be headed to family barbecues on Labor Day, where you will meet a variety of your relatives over grilled corn and chicken.

In your daily lives, vast numbers of fans may hang on to every word of your marketing or career advice. Or revel in your ability to write flawless code, or dispense wise legal strategy.

Your relatives, on the other hand, still remember how much you cried on your first day of kindergarten. Or how much you partied in college, and had trouble holding down a job at McDonalds.

So when you casually share some of your recent successes, or offer advice in an area you have expertise in, don’t be surprised if they either give you a blank look or reject your advice outright.

It is not because they don’t love you, or aren’t proud of you, it is most likely because they cannot reconcile the child you were in their eyes with the adult you have become outside of their home.

Especially if you are a bit of a weirdo, and are doing things that defy mainstream ideas of work (any job or business with “social media,” “freelance” “location-independent,” “in the cloud apps,” or “blogger” in the title automatically qualifies you for pitiful looks from long-time friends and relatives).

I think this is the case for everyone.Β  I imagine:

  • Dr. Phil’s mother ignored his advice, flinging back “How’s that working for ME?Β  How’s that working for YOU?”
  • Hilary Clinton’s brother says “Yeah, so you are brokering peace between Israel and Palestine, what about returning my phone calls? Are you too good for your own brother?”
  • Seth Godin’s mom says “Be remarkable? How about remembering to put your plate in the dishwasher? Now THAT would be remarkable!”

On a recent (wonderful) family vacation at a beach house in California, I listened to all kinds of discussions about the futility of social media. At one point I feebly attempted to explain how useful it can be, but soon saw that my daily life was so much different from my relatives that it would take too much energy to explain it.

So I changed the subject to more enjoyable things — recipes and child-rearing techniques, great books and fun childhood memories.

At one point, me, my successful and accomplished editor sister and my successful and accomplished scientist brother were ribbing my mom for not buying us the toys we wanted for Christmas 40 years ago. We were all in hysterics, and the love and connection we felt at that moment was so much more significant than anything related to our work lives.

Your superpowers are real. You know that from the impact you make on a daily basis with people who “get” you.

So relax, grab a smoky drumstick from the grill, and whatever you do, don’t share with Uncle Milton that your Alexa ranking has improved 42% since last time you saw each other.

All he wants is for you to listen to his fishing stories. That is using your superpowers for good.

Enjoy your weekend!

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29 Responses to “Don’t be shocked that your family is kryptonite to your superpowers”

  1. Chuck Rylant says:

    This is so true Pamela. Recently I was at a Dan Kennedy seminar when he spoke about this exact thing and he told a funny story about bringing a family member along to a speaking gig. After the event, the family member was shocked that people actually wanted HIS autograph.

    Only your fans will appreciate your advice and family members will actually resent it πŸ™‚

  2. Monique Rio says:

    Yes. This gives me hope that I can still have a good relationship with my family and be my weird self.

  3. […] Many of you in the U.S. may be headed to family barbecues on Labor Day, where you will meet a variety of your relatives over grilled corn and chicken.In your daily lives, vast numbers of fans may hang on to every word of your marketing or career advice. Or revel in your ability to write […] Original post […]

  4. Colin8ch says:

    Thanks for sharing, working in this “industry” is certainly a mystery when it comes to responding to family and friends asking “So, What do you do/ what have you been doing?”, I’ve commonly been faced with the following reactions:

    – I can work from anywhere my laptop is = Mom thinks I’m a bum with no job
    – No amount of description can ever explain what I do daily for my business = Dad thinks I play video games all day
    – Any conversation that includes the words SEO, tweet, blog, social media = Uncles and Aunts thinking I spend all my time posting pictures on facebook
    – Ecommerce = selling online for $ = If your successful, it must be porn or gambling
    – Working on a startup and not getting paid until it’s profitable= I’m unemployed and can’t find a paying job anywhere
    – Working with people remotely all over the world= I’m delusional and I have many imaginary friends

    Colin @

  5. My parents were left with brains on the wall when I explained the logistics of running a web- based business and that I never planned on returning to a desk job after quitting in April.

    My mother adjusted fine to the transition since I haven’t (yet) called them crying for help paying the bills, but the whole ordeal is a little challenging for my father who grew up without such luxuries as Sesame Street and MacBook Pros πŸ™‚

    It is 100% our responsibility to focus potentially awkward conversations on things that bring us all closer together rather than the things that divide us, as many humans will let themselves work themselves into a frothy lather of confusion and frustration.

    No one in my family has every really understood what I did for a living, so it’s more of the same in many ways πŸ˜€

  6. Lin Eleoff says:

    Pam… love it. Just when I think I’ve figured it all out my family cuts me off at the knees. You’re right. It takes waaayyyyyyyyy too much energy to explain, argue, or even try to kill them. ha
    Will change the subject instead from now on.
    Thanks for the tip!
    Lin E

  7. […] Don’t be shocked that your family is kryptonite to your superpowers by Pamela on september 3, 2010 […]

  8. Marilyn says:

    Families can push your buttons because they installed them.

    Though, I promise you… there is a day that will come when you will hear the words, “I’m so proud of you.”

    It may take your family five times as long as the average person to find out that you’re doing something wonderful with your life, but that day will come. They eventually will see it.

  9. Jade Barbee says:

    I’m currently at home visiting my family, and I have to say it’s been much easier this time around. I think it’s because I’ve come a long way towards feeling more empowered in my self in their presence – no matter what’s going on around me. I can honestly say I have no particular need for them to understand me anymore – and as I’ve let go of this, they seem more genuinely curious about what I’m up to. This newfound place also allows me to be more present with them and see them as perfect in their own way.

    This transformation did not come out of the blue. I spent time them about 6 months ago and worked through whole helluva lot of my own issues with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). These simple acupressure techniques work wonders for identifying where we’re stuck , acknowledging our thoughts and feelings and changing how we think and feel. It seems I spent every evening of my vacation with them in Hawaii in the tub, tapping and acknowledging my negative thoughts and feelings, including a whole lot around not being understood. I even came to forgiveness on some old issues that had been active in my vibration with them – and it changed everything almost overnight. Where I was irritable or impatient, I was more thoughtful, understanding and expansive – it was quite a surprise to me too! I have no doubt this work prepared me for my current visit.

    Anyhow – thank you for sharing your strategies. It sounds like going into a family situation and expecting them to “get it” or be different than they are is a recipe for disaster. And if we can be confident in who we are and just intend to enjoy their company – and whatever unfolds – its better for everyone. Thanks again – J

  10. Vicki says:

    But you didn’t mention the flip side:
    Oh, you work with computers? I have Windows 7? Should I upgrade? If computers get viruses can I catch one? Can you help me with Microsoft Word? Should I send money to that poor man in Nigeria?

    Maybe it’s better to et the blank looks? πŸ™‚

  11. SusanJ says:

    This is so true, Pam. In Sonia Simone’s Remarkable Marketing Blueprint forum, we have a bit of a mantra – “Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t do this stuff!”. Our forum pages contain a number of “my family thinks I’m a loon” posts.

    And I think it was Ram Dass who used to say “When you think you’re enlightened, go home for the holidays.” = >

  12. Patty K says:

    Oh. I love your imagined relatives conversations. Thanks for the giggles. Seth’s mom sounded just like mine. πŸ™‚

    It’s funny. I spend so much time online, that all this social media and techy stuff is just part of my world. But “out there” in the wild? The other night I told someone I was a blogger. His response: “You’re a Logger???” (the Forestry industry is pretty big here in BC)

    @Catherine – ugh – that sounds exactly like something MY dad would say. Many years ago he advised me that computers and the internet are just a fad.

    • Rachael says:

      My grandparents firmly believe that the internet is where Satan lives, so the fact that I pay rent with the internet is kind of WEIRD to them. I try to talk to them in terms of people I work with, rather than the medium, because otherwise it gets all awkward. Heh.

      • Pamela says:

        Rachael – I am thinking your new tagline could be “I make your brand beautiful, AND keep Satan in check on the Internet.”

    • Pamela says:

      Patty, I could not stop laughing at the “logger” comment. That is totally hilarious. It would be MUCH easier to explain to relatives that you are a logger, rather than a blogger, wouldn’t it?

    • That’s it; I’m switching back to the plaid work shirts I used to wear, and telling folks I’m a logger. No one has yet believed that I make a living driving around the country to meet people in person so I can teach them how to create a virtual business.

      In fact, I don’t even believe it.

      Sing it with me: “I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay . . . “

  13. sarah marie says:

    Great post! Glad to know others can feel a bit off their game when going home. I have to remind myself to be strong before I even talk to my mom on the phone these days. She doesn’t understand my career steps toward self employment. She just keeps asking, “How will you pay rent?” or “Can’t you get that paid search job back?” Argh! Some family members are there for great career talks and encouragement and the others, well, I guess I should learn to cook so we can talk recipes.

  14. Chris Mower says:

    I love it! It’s funny though, family always asks how business is going and for advice, but once it’s dispensed they “tune out.” Oh well, I’m used to it. Best to leave work at work and enjoy good family time.

  15. Kyle says:

    Love, love, love this post, Pam! It’s nice to know we aren’t alone out here with all of our “kooky” ideas and “strange” ways of doing things.

    So timely for me.

  16. Pam, I thought of the section you have on friends and family maybe not supporting your dream in your book when I excitedly told my father that my coach wanted to include me as a success story on his new website. My dad quipped back immediately, “But you are not a success yet.” My coach thinks I am since I escaped from Cubicle Nation to start my own transition coaching business. Please keep posting this kind of content. I am sure others need to hear it as well!

    • Pamela says:

      Ouch, that comment must have stung! My favorite thought at a time like that is “bless his heart.” Often, the older generation is doing what they think is best — the world of work is so different now, they can’t quite comprehend it.

      Keep rocking on with your bad self!

  17. Thanks for a laugh-out-loud too true post! Next I need to read “How Not to BECOME Kryptonite to Your Family!”

    Oh and congrats on the Alexa rating!

  18. Brilliant! and so important and true. Totally cracking up at Seth Godin’s mom..ha!

    I used to try to explain my work life to my family. I mean, *I* am jazzed about it, so why wouldn’t they be? Um, yeah… no.

    Thanks for the reminder that family doesn’t have to *get* your work (nor appreciate your work value) in order to be wonderful.

  19. Ooh this is such a good post, for any time of the year when you meet with friends and relatives who aren’t super online junkies like us.

    I used to say “I do stuff with computers” and that was enough to get people to change the subject. But now that computers are so much more mainstream (I’m talking like I’m an old lady who remembers a time before computers.. but really, it’s just a slightly different atmosphere)… it’s a little stickier of a topic.

    And yes, most people don’t know or care what an Alexa ranking is. All the more reason why we need to remember that we’ve got some sort of superpowers. πŸ˜‰

    Pam, you’re like the intuitive business relationship coach to my youngin’ business seedling. Now what do we do when our parents / relatives start following us on Twitter?!