How Friends and Family Teach You to Fail
Learning to Spot the Negative Impact of Well-Meaning Advice
If you’ve ever read a self-help book or any memoir about a person who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, you’ll no doubt have heard about that one individual (usually a family member, friend, or colleague) who was instrumental in motivating the protagonist to make that leap of faith leading to glory, wealth, and opportunity. But what you often don’t hear about are the myriad of folks who are truly trying to help but through their short-sightedness, fear, or ignorance offer bad advice wrapped in a cushion of good intentions.
Unfortunately, you’re already surrounded by these people. Worse yet, they’re often your closest loved ones—mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, bosses and co-workers. They can, with a well-meant word, cut the legs out from under you, undermine your motivation, and make your dream seem foolish or doomed to failure.
How many times have you found yourself talking with someone about a goal (or explaining a plan to reach that goal) only to have them say something like:
- That’s all well and good but do you really think you’re going to be able to finish writing that book?
- The market for massage therapists is really competitive right now.
- You’ll need a lot of start-up funding to get your food truck off the ground.
- Your last attempt at quitting your day job didn’t go so well, did it?
These people don’t really wish bad things for you (though some of them secretly might). In fact, everything they’re saying, they believe to be helpful. What they’re giving you is the guidance of the wise, the advice of the cool-headed, the perspective of someone on the outside. But these words can be much more than a buzzkill, they can be fatal to your hopes of a better life and can easily cripple any chance you had at increasing your income.
Who Are These Naysayers?
In Felix Dennis’s Best-Selling book How to Get Rich, Mr. Dennis calls these people Jeremiahs in reference to the biblical Jeremiah. This Jewish fellow—known as the weeping prophet—was a notorious, iconic naysayer who lived nearly 3,000 years ago. His legacy of lambasting Hebrews for their wicked ways and whining (for lack of a better word) about his lot in life as the unpopular messenger who had to bare the weight of the backlash against his message became so widespread that his name has become synonymous with pessimistic people.
In many cases, you can spot one of Mr. Dennis’s Jeremiahs from a mile away. They love to pontificate on the millions things that are wrong with the world (or how you’re living in it) while grumbling all the while about how hard it is for a playah trying to preach the message of righteousness (according to them). These detractors are easy to spot and easy to avoid. You might find yourself chuckling at them (or grumbling about them) but you’re note likely to reshape your life because of what they have to say.
On the other hand, there are naysayers in our lives whom we are likely to trust. We fully accept the advice given by them as if everything they say is wholly true. To these people—these secret agents of doubt—we give power over our futures.
Spotting the Secretive Naysayers Already In Your Life
Much of the most impactful advice we get in our lives comes from our closest friends and family members. We trust that these people have our best interests at heart without ever really examining what they’re saying or why they’re saying it. We accept it so easily because we’ve come to learn through past exposure that this advice is often correct, can help us avoid pain (physical or emotional), and is given by someone to whom we have voluntarily given power, respect, and a certain amount of control.
For example, my mom once told me not to ride my Hot Wheels tricycle on the deck. I proceeded to do so (backwards) and pitched four-feet to the ground, splitting my head on a rock. She also told me not to roller skate in the hallway. I did anyway and faceplanted into the coffee table, sending my front teeth through my bottom lip.
My dad gave some great advice too! Hold the claw hammer by the head and don’t swing it—which I didn’t follow and ended up with the claws imbedded in my thigh and a scar that looks like I was attacked by a buck-toothed rabbit. And speaking of rabbits—when my father gave me a sickle and told me to harvest some grass for my rabbit, he specifically counselled me to use the blade like a knife and don’t swing the sickle like an axe. You guessed it! I cut my index finger to the bone and had to be rushed to the ER for multiple stitches while my mother cried and wondered if I was going to lose my finger!
My parents often gave me great advice (some of which I followed). Therefore, I accepted the majority of the advice they gave as gospel. (And some of which negatively shaped my obsession with working hard and my attitudes about money.)
They gave me this advice because they didn’t want to see me hurt (and possibly because they were tired of rushing me to the ER as I bled from various wounds).
Spotting the Insidious Negativity
So would I classify my mom as a Jeremiah? Would I even think to question my dad when he gave me a life lesson?
The answer to both of those is “no,” but looking back on some of the advice they gave, I realize it limited in ways that would have lifelong effects on my personality, my professional aspirations, and even my paycheck.
For example, when I told my mom I had launched a copywriting business and was making money by writing online articles for folks she said: “that’s great. Your dad would be so proud. But you don’t want to lose your health insurance. Can you do that and still have time for your real job?”
This is an example of insidious negativity delivered with good intentions. My mother, in this instance, was acting as a Jeremiah. She didn’t have faith in my ability to run a successful copywriting business through which I could replace my income and benefits earned from a traditional job. As a result, neither did I (and I was always too scared to try).
But it isn’t Always Negativity That Hurts
Sometimes a positive comment can have a negative impact that can change the course of your life forever.
20 plus years ago, when I was working part time at a convenience store while in college, I was taught how to cut meat (not really butchering but close enough). I still remember the pride on my father’s face when I told him. He was so excited that I was learning a trade that his enthusiasm was intoxicating. Afterall, he was a tradesman (carpenter) and it had provided him with a comparatively large income, a source of pride, and a social network for years. He felt that meat cutting would do the same for me.
But looking back on it after many, many years there were some major differences that really held me back on a professional level and stunted the amount of money I would make.
First, my father was a self-employed tradesman. He was in charge of the income he earned. I was an employee subject to the pay scale of whatever grocery store I worked for.
Second, he had the opportunity to grow significantly learning everything in the housebuilding trade from groundwork and framing through plumbing and electrical. I was never going to learn anything more than I had once I mastered cutting each piece of beef and pork. Sure, I could learn to cut faster, better, cleaner, and improve my face-to-face customer service skills but the value disparity between the professional progress my father enjoyed and that I did was astronomical.
Lastly, because he was so proud when I told him, I was forever fearful that if I looked for other opportunities elsewhere that I would disappoint him. And the thought of that crippled me.
How to Overcome Your Jeremiahs
Felix Dennis’s Best-Selling book How to Get Rich has some interesting advice about naysayers. Mr. Dennis simply says to ignore them. He even goes so far as to suggest that if a romantic life partner is identified as a Jeremiah that you’re best to either excise them from your life or give up on your dreams of getting rich.
Easy for him to say (and do). He’s a typical extrovert who developed a do-or-die attitude toward professional success in his twenties.
For the rest of us—especially those of us with well-meaning naysayers fully integrated into our lives—it can seem impossible to break free of their influence. This is especially hard if you’re an introvert like me because our personal circles of close relationships are so tiny to begin with that there’s really no fat to be trimmed from them. If your wife warns you that starting a website is going to be costly and time consuming, you can’t simply tell her to get lost!
The Three Step Process for Working Around the Naysayers in Your Life
So how do you work around all this naysaying and actually get the results you want to see? It starts with introspection.
As an introvert, you’re already good at this—sometimes too good so don’t overthink it!
Step 1: Examine your end goal and assign the proper value to it.
You’ve already daydreamed about this goal, sketched out plans to get there, thought of the myriad things that could go wrong, but that goal—whatever it is—is still so important to you that you’ve held onto it this long. That means it’s valuable to you regardless of the financial outcome associated with it. You need to assign that value to it (either in a real dollar figure or an emotional currency) and hold true to that assignment.
Step 2: Really listen to the advice you’re given
Don’t simply let the advice from your well-meaning naysayers slip insidiously into your brain and live there. Really take it in, hear what they’re saying, and examine the statement. Look for falsehoods, misinformation, misunderstanding. This will help you weed out any opinion that isn’t based on factual information.
Step 3: Get to the heart of the matter
Identify the motivation behind the advice. Is your Jeremiah jealous of your boldness and potential success? Are they trying to keep you close to home (literally or figuratively)? Are they worried about disrupting the status quo? Is it the impact of your end goal on you they’re concerned about or is it the impact of your goal on them that made them speak up?
Need more help spotting the negative people in your life? Learn how to deal with difficult people effortlessly.
Change is Life and Regret is Eternal!
In short, your life will never change unless you change it. Most of the time, your personal Jeremiahs are simply trying to keep everything the same. They likely have personal reasons for this, but they may also genuinely believe their negative opinions and veiled remarks are helping protect you from danger/risk/emotional or financial harm.
The most important thing to remember is that your life is yours to live. You only get one and you don’t want to live with regret for choices not made and chances not taken. Don’t simply excise these people from your life (unless you want to) or routinely ignore their advice. Do what any good introvert would do and process the information, make a decision, and act!