As you muster up the courage to pursue new visions in life, such as a new job or career, additional schooling, or a city you’ve always wanted to live in, you may face many changes. This may include transitioning to a new physical environment, to new friends and co-workers, and to new behaviors.
If you’re a high achiever or a “think outside the norm” person, such adjustments may present even greater challenges.
I’ve already had to adjust to a broad range of settings in my lifetime; and chances are that you have, too. For me, one of the greatest difficulties of such transitions has been leaving behind the comfort of already-developed relationships and forming new ones.
I remember, for example, when I left a working-class neighborhood in urban small-town Ohio to attend an extremely wealthy high school on scholarship. I had never been out of the state, and was suddenly surrounded by individuals whose worlds had been much different than mine. To put this in perspective, a single year’s tuition was greater than my family’s annual income.
Many years have passed since then, but I still remember it vividly. Although my new friends and I shared many of the joys and struggles common to humankind, it was not an easy transition. I was surrounded by a very different environment and very different people. I felt exposed, simultaneously afraid and excited by the opportunity to define myself in a new setting.
I learned a great deal about who I was, and who I was not. Additionally, I began to develop a foundation of courage to take on future transitions -- some related to change of location, some related to shifts in career, some related to changes in lifestyle.
Not every pursuit of a new vision involves an obvious change in both surroundings and people. Sometimes it can involve a relatively small but important change in your behavior, or in the way you express your core purpose, values and strengths.
This expression alone can drastically alter your relationships with other people. This can be a good thing, but fear of such change in relationships can stand in your way of pursuing what is important to you.
For example, I sent out messages to many relatives and old friends informing them of my first book shortly after I completed it. I debated whether to include some of the items, like mentioning that the book discusses how racism, sexism and homophobia can stand in our way of personal success. I knew that this would turn off some people, but I included it anyway.
So what was I fearing in both of these cases? What was I afraid of losing as I strove for greater authenticity? A few assumptions I made about relationships, followed by what I later told myself:
1) My family and current friends will dislike me because it may seem like I’m trying to be better than they are. Or, they may not like me as I change. I’ll lose acceptance and affection.
Yes, this is possible, particularly if you’re transitioning to a setting where economic class or race are very different. However, are you doing anyone a favor by stunting your own growth? Are you showing others love, or are you really just being selfish by worrying about how your relationships enable you to stay comfortable right where you are?
Sometimes the greatest love involves risking your acceptance. To paraphrase Marianne Williams, by living up to your potential you give others permission to do the same. Don’t give your loved ones permission to be content with same old same old!
As a previously vegan, still mostly plant-based person, I appreciate some of the writings of Will Tuttle. He writes eloquently about the “collective intelligence” that joins both humans and other animals. Failing to act in line with your nature -- or denying other sentient beings the ability to act in line with their nature -- decreases both collective and personal intelligence over time, disrupting balance, creating systemic denial, fostering detachment, and eventually harming all of us.
While Tuttle’s conversation revolves around how we systemically oppress other animals, we’re often just as guilty of oppressing other people in subtle ways without even realizing it. This often begins by oppressing ourselves. So by striving to become yourself, even it it makes others uncomfortable on occasion, you’re respecting your intelligence and theirs.
2) As I pursue success, I’ll become lonely and have to manage new challenges on my own.
This is connected to #1, and you may have to tolerate some temporary loneliness as you transition. However, as you live more in line with your authentic core, you’ll more easily attract people who are more aligned with who you really are. Additionally, you may grow even closer with family and old friends who are also in the process of becoming more authentic. Over time, this will generally equate to more support for doing what’s really important to you.
While it’s important to be confident, it’s also important not to become egotistical as you continue to strip away your facade and pursue the lifestyle, career, hobbies, and relationships that resonate with you. Otherwise, as Peter Gabriel noted in his song about success-induced arrogance, you could end up needing a new pillow. And you could end up being lonely.
Do any of these resemble fears you’ve had to face or are currently facing? What other relationship-related fears have you had to overcome when pursuing what is important to you?