A friend of mine recently got an article accepted in the journal Science. That’s a BIG deal. When you get something into Science you are pretty much guaranteed a job at a research institution, or at least a really, really good post-doctoral fellowship. It opens big-time doors, for real.
This is one my very good friends and she does really interesting research. She DESERVES this break… and yet, when she was telling me her good news, it went like this:
Her: “You’ll never guess what happened! Remember that study I was doing about …?” <– that ellipse is for your sake. We researchers really go into detail.
Me: ‘Yes, of course!”
Her: “Well, my advisor suggested that we submit it to Science, but of course I NEVER thought it would get in.”
Me: “Right.” No, really. Like, 1% of things are accepted to Science.
Her: “BUT IT DID! I can’t believe it! It’s crazy… I really didn’t expect it to, but it got accepted. They don’t even want very many revisions!” That’s pretty rare.
Me: “That’s so, so great!”
Her: “I know!” then she seemed to lose a little steam. “It is, right? I’m sorry… I should have asked you about your work.” She looked down and then at me, nervously. She didn’t want me to feel bad about where I was, in light of her good news.
Me: “You’re SORRY!? Oh, no you are not! Awesome? Yes. Proud? Yes. Amazing? Yes! But SORRY? Oh, hell, no.”
Now we’ve ben friends for years and I’ve never known her to hide from success. But this one seemed like just a little too much for her. I could see it dawn on her that this might divide us; that I might feel left behind.
This happens a lot. It’s pretty common for someone to have a moment of success and then lay low, like they did something wrong. It’s as though they were balloons living alongside all the other balloons in a neighborhood of boxes— a constrained but orderly existence— and then suddenly they find themselves alone, outside, untethered and on the rise.
After a moment of freedom-induced euphoria, they get spooked “What about everyone else? What if they don’t want to talk to me now that I’m outside the boxes?” And then they run back inside, determined to once again live low, just like everyone else.
I hear you. No one wants to be all alone in a scary, unpredictable world.
But, at the same time, do you want live your life trying to be so small that no one ever feels intimidated, impressed or amazed by you? That doesn’t sound to me like a life where you make things you care about better or where you push your artistic, logical, and creative boundaries to new heights. It surely doesn’t sound like a life full of adventure, challenge or excitement.
You have to leave the box behind, my friends.
First of all, that box is boring. You are already chafing against it, aren’t you? And, frankly, that box is dangerous because there’s always someone who wants to make it smaller.
Let’s imagine that you did something really great, like a place in an exclusive teaching fellowship.
Along comes your “accomplished” friend. “Don’t be too awesome, darling,” she says “or I’ll feel left out, even though I’m also pretty great.”
So you downplay your success and start saying “it’s no big deal.” and “I must have great luck!” Your box shrinks.
Then along comes your friend who feels stuck. “Don’t get too excited or I’ll feel even worse about my own situation.”
So you go mute about your accomplishment. “If someone’s interested,” you reason, “they’ll ask.” And your box shrinks.
Then along comes your friend whose great talent is complaining. “Don’t pretend like you’ve got a good life- you and I both know that life sucks. Come on, let’s complain.”
And then you find yourself actually complaining about this amazing opportunity, feeling like a traitor. The box get’s a little tighter.
Finally, the worst friend of all comes along: the insecure diva. “I’m supposed to be the one whose amazing! What do you mean you have this great opportunity?! I never have great opportunities anymore. I guess my time is over.”
She lays a hand over her brow, peeking at you through one eye to see if you take the bait. You do, assuring her that your opportunity is really not that great and all her opportunities were, obviously, so much better. Suddenly that box has a kung fu grip on your heart and it’s starting to squeeze.
Forgive this language: Fuck that shit.
Let me introduce you to a new set of friends. These friends hear about your accomplishment and help you celebrate it. They take you out for drinks and tell the waiter to bring cake. They ask probing questions to get al all the gory (amazing) details and would shout it from the rooftops if you would just let them.
When you say “It’s no big deal” they say “Are you kidding? It’s the biggest deal!”
When you say “I know you still haven’t heard back about your own opportunity.” They say “This isn’t about me- my day is coming. This is about you and how proud I am of you!”
Maybe thees feel like unrealistic expectations to have for your friends, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of your existing friends would transform immediately once you help them get free of their own terrible little box.
Friendship is one of those things where people are constantly cueing off each other. If you are unequivocally excited about your opportunity, so will they be. And if you are unequivocally excited about their successes they’re likely do the same for you.
(And if they don’t…. time for new friends)
Here is a rather long quote/poem that I love, that gets at the heart of why we allow ourselves to live in this neighborhood of terrible boxes.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
As your friend, here’s what I need you to know:
You have my permission to blow us all away.
I want to watch you soar far, far away and then I want you to come back and tell me stories. I don’t need you by my side to make me feel better! I need you to wave at me from all the way up there to show me how far it’s possible to go.
It’s hard for us to say those things to each other, not just because we wonder when our turn will come, but because we’ll miss you. But I know that you’ll be back, ready to share your stories and help me to unlock my own potential. So, now, go. Be amazing. And I’ll be right here cheering you on.
Isn’t that a great quote? I have it posted in a few different places because it helps me to keep the courage when I feel threatened by my own success.
I suggest you do that same. To make that easy, I’ve formatted it for easy printing!
Grab the download and you’ll have it in three sizes-
- 8.5×11, full-text perfect for posting next to your computer
- A bookmark to stick in your bedside book, to comfort you as you unwind before bed,
- 3 different options for a little one to put in your notebooks, wallet or on the back of your cell phone cover.