If you want to have any kind of success in life, you need to be in the proper environment. And by that, I don’t mean being born in a rich family, or having a super fancy office to get things done, although, that’s certainly nice, by environment, I mean the people you hang out with.
In other words, your friends, family, and co-workers.
Your environment is crucial when we’re talking goal setting.
Your environment can make or break your success. It can keep you stuck in a loop for years because you can’t stop doubting yourself and are surrounded by people who can’t stop doubting you as well – or worse, enjoy dragging you down.
Truth be told, you probably have enough self-doubts without needing someone who encourages you in doubting yourself even more – especially friends and family.
Now, what can you do about it?
You can’t get rid of everybody around you unless you want to and are ready to carry the consequences.
However, if you’re in a toxic environment right now, you need to find a strategy for yourself to succeed despite it.
And, to make it clear, by succeeding I don’t mean a standard idea of succeeding. By succeeding I mean, succeeding according to your standards. Success can be everything from getting your first paying client to breaking your glass ceiling, to getting up excited in the morning because you’re living a life in total harmony with your values. Or all of it.
What can happen when you try to succeed in something...
There is more than one way you can cope with your environment without being derailed by it.
The first thing is to be aware of who is supportive in your environment and who’s not.
Every gut instinct and hint are worth exploring, and yes, I want you to make a list of who’s who, according to your heart, not your reason.
Sometimes you can’t even put your finger on it, but you know that some people in your life aren’t good for you. They might not discourage you openly, but they might behave in a way that feels discouraging to you and you know something is off.
You must be dead serious about defining who it is. Even if it’s your partner, or your children, who do it. They certainly love you, but when it comes to changing things in your life, they might not be the most supportive, consciously or unconsciously.
Reasons for this are multiple but mostly it has something to do with people feeling threatened by something.
When you start to listen to your heart and follow your dreams, you start to behave differently. You do things that are way out of your comfort zone. And seeing you acting differently might freak some people out. Even people you love and who love you back.
It’s because when you decide to change things about yourself, it reflects at others. Just by changing yourself, you’re sending this message:
“Look what I’m doing to make my dreams happen.”
Implicitly, it means that they could theoretically do the same. It should be inspiring for others, but following your dreams, might be threatening and not inspiring to some. Because it involves a lot of fear... The fear of failure, the fear of commitment, or even the fear of success! And, hmmm.. Besides, it involves taking action.
If you’re taking actions consistently towards your dreams, people will think about themselves and deep down acknowledge that they also have dreams and aspirations. The problem is, that they are probably not ready to take the risks and put the efforts into realizing them yet.
Seeing you taking actions towards your dreams, can be perceived as a threat by some people.
And the way lots of people react when they feel threatened by something and want to feel good about themselves is to threaten back. Meaning tearing you down.
Tearing you down is easier than taking any risks or putting any work into realizing their dreams. It’s often unconscious, but that’s basically the mechanics behind this kind of behavior.
Seeing you pursuing your dreams can also trigger the fear of people who want to protect you from making a mistake. In other words, they project their fears onto you, when they try to discourage you from doing something.
Whether because they fear that you’re going to suffer, make a fool at of yourself, or be disappointed, and want to protect you from those painful feelings (because they don’t believe it’s going to work), or because, deep down, they fear that you will change.
You might also encounter more disturbing reactions that come from a place of jealousy or resentment. The “If I can’t succeed, I don’t want anybody else to succeed”-fraction, or even the “I have succeeded, and I don’t want anybody else to succeed because I need to be special.”-fraction.
That, you will see in people who’ve made it in the discipline of your choice but don’t want to see anybody else succeeding, because they still are insecure about themselves.
In the end, it all comes down to fear. Even jealousy is fear. It’s the fear of not being enough.
People have countless ways of expressing their fears of not being enough.
They get angry, jealous, sad, depressed, sarcastic, you name it.
Everybody has his own panic language. The trick is to recognize it and learn to protect yourself from it.
So, how can you succeed despite a toxic environment?
1. Make your supporters and “non-supporters”-list
Write that list down, I talked about on top of this post, where you list supporters and non-supporters. The goal is to first get it out of your system. It doesn’t mean that you’re objective about it, some people just don’t know how to be supportive even if they wanted to, it’s about getting a sense of relief and clarity for what’s going on inside your mind.
Writing a list of your supporters and non-supporters will help overcome those foggy and handicapping thoughts that are unnecessarily using your mental energy.
2. Write down what you think is supportive or non-supportive
Once you’ve made that list, try to put your finger on what is exactly supportive or non-supportive of them.
Doing this exercise will help you find out, what your needs are.
3. Make a list of your fundamental needs
Exploring your fundamental needs is going to help you taking care of yourself.
In other words, looking for activities or connections, where you can meet those needs so that you’re less “emotionally dependent” on the people “who don’t support you”.
4. Make a list of your peeps that you order in 3 categories
Make a friends-list, a family-list, and a co-workers-list.
It’s not about putting people into reductive categories but about structuring your thoughts and making a list of actions you can take to support yourself depending on the context.
For example, you don’t choose your family. You were born into it. So, unless you want to completely burn the bridge, you’ll have to find a satisfying strategy for yourself on how you can deal with it.
If you have a great relationship with your family, congrats! That’s extremely good news.
But if you don't, you might be in the grey zone between, “I love you but, at the same time, you drive me crazy.”
Please understand this as an example to make a point.
A strategy could be to ask yourself how often you want to see them, how you could explain to them that you understand their fears, but that you need support from them and not constantly being questioned in your ability to make things happen. It could be to practice rebellion more often, and say “no” more often, if it’s necessary for you, at this phase of your life. Of course, it doesn’t have to stay that way forever.
The thing is, lots of people do their best. It doesn’t excuse every behavior, and I’m the first to stand behind, the “enough is enough”-philosophy, but there might be a way to work on your problem, without disappearing over the Mexican border and changing your pass overnight, nor betraying yourself in the process. In other words, without putting the need of your family members above yours, just to avoid conflict, which is, I’ll give you that, not easy to do.
But it is possible. The secret is to take baby steps. You say “no” from time to time, and at first, you’ll feel guilty and awful about yourself, if you’re not used to it. But, with time, you might stretch your comfort zone and become more and more independent.
If we’re talking co-workers and it starts to become unbearable at work, you could ask yourself, if you could change the department. And if the whole company has a toxic environment, making a plan to leave soon will give you perceptive. It’s easier said than done, but if you work on a strategy on the side – aka, an escape plan – it will make you feel instantly better, for the simple reason that you’ll switch from powerless to realizing you have it all in your hand.
If we’re talking friends, it’s also more complicated and emotional.
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Sometimes you have an acquittance who you talk to every 6 months and is an amazing human being, sincerely supportive of everything you do, but for whatever reasons, you can’t see each other that much.
And sometimes, you have old friends, you still love, but who somehow, headed to a completely other direction and where you feel, that you’re missing something in the friendship. All those amazing people can stay in your life, if you want to and if they want to, but you need to find people who are going through the same stuff and are aiming for similar things than you are as well.
So, simply put, you might want to look for business besties if you’re a business owner, or for fellow writers, if you’re a writer, to meet the needs that your amazing old friends can’t.
The problematic friendships are the ones who make you feel bad about yourself and suck the energy out of your bones.
It can be everything from friends who have a superiority complex, belittle you, and can’t stand to be contradicted in their brilliant vision of the world, to friends who constantly need emotional support, but never want to make an effort to change something (not to mention they’re incapable to do the same for you), to friends who systematically talks your ideas and projects into the ground, or just have no intention on supporting you on any level, whatsoever, because they can’t put their frustration aside for just one minute.
Here the solution, which is very simple and very uncomfortable:
- You give them a straight talk
- And if that doesn’t work, it’s probably time for a “Goodbye”.
Now, I also must warn you that those three categories of toxic friendships are going to be a challenge when it comes to conflict.
The ones with the superiority complex are going to treat you with vitriol, unbelievably hurtful and condescending remarks, and maybe even insults because they just can’t stand being resisted. So, brace for impact.
The ones with the emotional neediness are going to try to appeal to your guilt by self-pitying. To a certain extent, it can transform into emotional blackmail.
The nay-sayers are also going to be pissed and probably tell you that you are naïve and delusional and use every weapon in their arsenal to prove you’re wrong and they're right.
It all comes from a place of pain. Being rejected is no fun for anyone.
However, that doesn’t excuse everything.
Here is one rule to follow:
Be strong and stand your ground.
Being compassionate is also a good thing if you can do it, but be aware of not doing it at the cost of your well-being. Meaning repressing your negative emotions and blaming yourself for them on top of it.
A sure thing is, they won’t. Otherwise, they would react differently.
You can also ghost people but that’s no way to behave.
Except, if it’s someone you don’t know very well and “making a fuss” would be more inappropriate than respectful. However, the line can be very blurry here.
Being in a toxic environment can be a huge handicap on your way to succeeding. Depending on how complicated your situation is, the way you see yourself, and how vulnerable you are to other people’s struggles and frustrations, it can even drag you down.
But the good news here is, that you have the power to gain clarity, talk things through, and start making changes in your environment. It doesn’t have to be “burn the bridge” immediately, except if you feel like you're playing the leading role in "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest".
A soft way to begin, is to focus on the “What amazing people can I connect with and exciting activities can I add to my life, so that I support myself the best I can?”
And the rest, if not urgent, might just take care of itself.
Because the moment you’ll start to change, you’ll start changing the way people react to you automatically. Besides, you’ll attract the right (right for you) people into your life and repel the rest.