The Thing You Work So Hard At, Is The Very Thing That Can Drive People Away

Do you think you will be more successful / happier / better if you were smarter? What if you were better looking?  More spiritually evolved? Funnier? Stronger?

Here’s the irony, the things we strive for can also the very things that put up a barrier between you and other people.  How can we strive for excellence and still be open in relationships with others?

Say it out loud.  After working through a leadership exercise last week where we shared our assumptions with others, we saw that as soon as you say it out loud it loses its power.  For example, take the super-good-looking person whose looks keep you at a distance. What would happen if you said to them, “Hey you are so good looking that it makes me feel unworthy of being your friend.”  Would they say “it should, you ugly little worm?” Probably not. They might say something like “Oh really, even with my hair all ratty like this?” And BOOM the wall disintegrates.

Strive for excellence, but don’t put it up as a shield.  I have a gorgeous friend, who walked into work one day as if she stepped off the cover of Vogue.  When she proceeded to trip and fall, then burst into a fit of giggles, I knew we could be friends.  She has never stopped looking like a model, but she also lets me see her clumsy side.

Being excellent is a beautiful thing, but also be open about your weaknesses.  It helps people see that you are real.

Be open about your journey for excellence.  We’re all on a journey.  Giving the impression that you have arrived can be off-putting while sharing achievements as part of your journey are endearing.  

For example, when someone says “My kids are amazing, I’m really proud of the great job I did parenting them” it can be a little off-putting to someone listening who has a kid failing math and another just suspended from school.  Of course, we all want to have great kids and do the best we can as parents! And we should be proud! When you frame it as more of a journey, it makes you more accessible. For example “Raising my kids hasn’t been easy, there have been challenges and tears along the way, but I’m proud of the amazing people they are becoming.”

Don’t judge, and say that out loud.  When we judge ourselves harshly others think that we judge them the same way.  I have a friend who told me that she was surprised at how much I appreciated what she did because I’m such a perfectionist.  When someone is doing something for me I am just so happy I didn’t have to do it, that anything is wonderful! But I gave her the impression that I am hard to please because I’m so hard on myself.

How can you head off this confusion?  Well, first when you are hard on yourself you might share that.  I had a college roommate who would beat herself up for getting an A- while others were rejoicing with a B.  We all felt insulted when she said: “Well a B is good, for you.”  Wow, so how can you aim high and still not insult people?  How about simply being honest on the journey, rather than comparing outcomes?  A comment like “The test was harder than I thought it would be” covers effort expended on all sides.  

What have you been striving for that has worked against you in the end?  Share in the comments!