Why do people want us to be successful, but not too successful? And why are we always downplaying our successes so we don’t appear too successful? I’ve decided to look into the reason we do this and I’m trying to stop myself from falling into this pattern.
The negativity sandwich
When I tell anybody good news, I often give them a negativity sandwich, or at least a negativity open sandwich. I tell them something good, but, eager to dilute the good news, I finish by telling them something bad that has happened to me.
It’s something I think about all the time. If my life is too positive, if it’s full of too much success or luck (side note: I don’t believe in luck) then people won’t want to be friends with me. Perhaps it goes back to being at school. A school bully once told me that I stood up too straight and it made me look ‘up myself’ — Kentish grammar school talk for aloof. Now, after one baby and a lifetime of sitting at a desk chair, I’d kill for that kind of orthostatic compliment, but at the time I shrunk into myself.
As women, we’re always striving for that perfect amount of success. The level that makes us – you know – successful, but not too successful that friends will start rolling their eyes. Why do we do that? Why do I do that?
As I read this, I started to wonder if this is something that has been programmed into us from a young age?
It’s not your problem
This is something I’ve been trying to re-programme myself to think. If somebody can’t be happy for me, it isn’t my problem. I’m a big fan of Lydia Millen’s vlogs, and she recently said that she was embarrassed to drive her Aston Martin because of the opinion people had of her. She has had to force herself to just drive it anyway and ignore the looks because who bloody cares?
“What people say about you says more about them than it does about you” is an over-used quote for a reason. You can only spare other people’s feelings of inadequacy to a point before you end up completely dulling your own light trying to light up other people.
In reality, it’s only you who can light yourself up. If you are the person who is always jealous of other people’s successes, then it’s you who needs to spend some time brightening your own light. When you’ve got the option, why would you spend your time trying to dull other people rather than lifting yourself up?
It can remind people of a life they want
Other people’s success can sometimes be hard to swallow when you’re in a negative position. I remember when I was pregnant, a work friend of mine got an amazing, amazing book publishing deal.
Feeling like a big fat lump and unable to commit to any work projects, I felt flat. Of course, I would never tell them that (because, spoiler alert, not everything is about you), but it took me a couple of days to readjust.
The readjustment – as it turned out – was to plough away at my work little and often. I was consistent. I pitched every week, I worked hard for my clients, I looked after Isaac 24/7 while also balancing my laptop on my lap at night while I was breastfeeding and writing proposals while he slept next to me.
To me, my hard work (which is now paying off) looked like a hard slog of continuous and small daily improvements. To everybody else, it probably seems like I just got lucky.
See – I’m doing it again – I’m downplaying my success. For the purpose of this paragraph, though, it’s important to note that nobody’s success comes overnight. Just because they don’t advertise the struggle, doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
You can do good, but not as good as me
This is the crux of it all, isn’t it?
It’s a basic human instinct to feel envy or jealousy. We’re always pondering the question ‘who am I?’ and on many levels, we determine where we are by looking at what others are doing.
If your ‘who am I?’ revolves around being the best you can be at your job, then people having babies and getting married around you won’t phase you. But, if all your friends are climbing up the career ladder and you’re not, that’s when envy starts to rear its ugly head. And sure enough, when envy appears so do comments like ‘well, he only got to that position because his uncle works here’ or ‘she can only do that because she has got rich parents’.
I had a friend who used to tell people that my parents were really rich. To this day, I still don’t know why, but so many people told me she said it. It seemed to be a way to explain away my success, which – at the time – was a £12,000 a year PR job which saw me walking up the hill every Thursday with a bag full of tea towels for the laundrette. SO SUCCESSFUL. So lucky.
When we do come across people who are doing undeniably better than us, we have two choices; feel that envy, let it push us forward and drive us. Or, bitch about them behind their backs and make yourself feel better by explaining away their success as luck, or nepotism, or because they’ve got rich parents.
Being around happiness will make you happier
My friends drive me to be better versions of myself. My best friend recently started an Instagram account to talk about the outdoor activities she gets up to with her two children. It makes me strive to try new things with Isaac. I’ve got friends who are killing it in their careers, friends who are killing it as parents, friends who are just smashing life.
All in all, having these people around me makes me a better, happier person. It helps me to check my priorities. It shows me that we all have our moments to shine and moments to sit back and enjoy the glow of other people’s successes.
If you surround yourself with people who spend all their time moaning about themselves, moaning about others or moaning about their lot in life, it does bring you down. As selfish as it seems, sometimes – and if you’ve done what you can to try to help and they’re not helping themselves – you have to distance yourself from the negativity.
Shout your successes from the rooftops
That’s my plan for the year. I’m going to share my successes as well as my setbacks. I’ve started a weekly round-up of my work to give people a bit of an idea about the ups and downs of being a journalist over on my Instagram account.
I’m not going to share my good news by also telling people a bit of rubbish news, I’m going to let other people’s success and happiness make me feel proud and motivated rather than envious.
I’m not going to let anybody dull my positivity, and I don’t think you should either.