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Success & Why You Should Avoid Talking About It
When I lived in Russia, a common answer to the question “How are you?” was “Terrible.” This was a regular response, regardless of whether or not it was true, and I am starting to understand the wisdom in it.
There was this man I used to know. Every time I saw the guy, he would make it a point to go out of his way to tell me how great things were going for him, the success his business was having, how excited he was etc. I always tried to let him know how happy I was for him. He would then ask me how I was, and as soon as I would start to answer, he would say “Oh..excuse me I have to go.” Get up and leave. And sometimes he wouldn’t even say that. Looking back on it, man that guy was kind of a jerk! He was only interested in talking about himself! Lol
I’ve been writing a book for several years now about efficiency. It began as a curiosity after a football practice over 25 years ago. Once that spark ignited, I’ve used every opportunity I’ve had to experiment, observe, study, note take and apply the things I’ve learned. Around 2012 I got serious about putting a book of my notes and observations about it together. Last Friday morning, I finished what would be my third draft, and it is currently in the hands of my editor. For me personally, this is a HUGE deal. Bucket-list kind of thing for me.
There is a human tendency that when you accomplish something big in your life, you want to celebrate it! At least for a day or two. And having a few close people in your life celebrate with you makes it extra special. Keep in mind I am extremely reserved about feeling good about my accomplishments, but this was only the second book I’ve written & it takes years to do so. I shared my finishing the book with a few really close friends and the reactions were not what I was expecting.
I felt sad to learn, that the vast majority of those I shared this with, were dismissive. These are all people I love and care about. It was as if I was making them uncomfortable. I’ve seen this before, but hadn’t really noticed it to this degree. There were a few friends, who were genuinely happy for me, but the majority seemed very neutral, and a couple negative..
Why in the world would telling a friend about my success, bother them?
I have thought about this for several days now, and I think I have some answers. People care mostly about their children and themselves, usually in that order. When a parent see’s their child succeeding, there is great joy, pride and happiness. Sometimes even more than the child might feel. Sometimes because it is obligatory too.
Seeing themselves succeed also feels really amazing. But seeing someone else succeed triggers a reflex of comparison, and when they are on the shorter end of the stick, envy. This is regardless of the fact that the person enjoying the success may have paid a dear price for it, only the spoils seem to matter.
I believe there are a few exceptions to this idea:
1. Friends who are already very happy, do not feel threatened with others success. (This is not necessarily related to financial success).
2. Friends who have a high self-esteem do not seem to feel envy.
3. In cases of unusual humility, there are those who are unhappy, low-self esteem and suffering who are still able to empathize with those they love and feel happy for them despite their own personal struggling.
If the person you are sharing your success with doesn’t fall into one of those exceptions, I’m beginning to believe it’s probably not a great idea to talk about it. They want to hear about their success, not yours. If a close friend really wants to hear what I am up to, they will ask and we can discuss. Do not take it personal either, they can be good friends or even family members, they might have something on their plate you do not know about, or they might be hurting in some way that prevents them from feeling happy with you.
I am also coming to the conclusion that if I feel like I want to celebrate an accomplishment, it is better to find a way to do so alone. Definitely not as fun, but this way there aren’t bad vibes created. Self-contained congratulations and celebrations seem far more satisfying then getting worked up over why someone else may not feel the same about your accomplishment. If it’s big enough and they are a true friend, they will definitely let you know.
Which leads my to my next conclusion: It is probably better to talk about your failures and lessons learned from them, than just your successes and why you may be perceived as “doing better” than someone else. Failures are not threatening to others. “Schadenfreude” is a German word to mean “taking pleasure from another’s misfortunes.” It is a real psychological thing. For whatever reason, we can feel good when others fail. What a jacked up concept!
So the take home message is this:
A. If you want to engage others, and help them to feel good, get them to talk about their (or their children’s) successes, not yours.
B. If you have something you are super excited about, and there is any possible way it can be interpreted as bragging, or possibly creating envy, telling others probably won’t always get the reaction you are hoping for. No one is going to be as happy with your successes as you are personally.
C. When you talk about yourself, share with them your failures and lessons learned because that probably won’t offend anyone.
D. Find a way to self- congratulate your efforts. It will be faster, easier and often more satisfying than trying to find some who feels the same way you do about it.
E. I think it is a horrifically bad idea to talk about money and how much you make. If it is substantially more than those you share it with, it is definitely bragging, but worse, they will feel ok in coming to you if they need it. Seriously, nothing good will come from it.
PS- Im just curious...have you guys ever had a bad experience in sharing your success with others? If so what happened?