Human beings constantly compare our social status amongst each other, whether you like it or not. That is true of all of us as social species. Have you ever felt like you started off with someone at a similar starting line, yet today, that same person is supposedly ‘doing much better’ than you? Can you feel genuinely happy for him or do you feel a little jealous? I’d argue it’s both. However, it’s your responsibility and in your control to choose either of the two to express.
Through the years, my pursuits of self-improvement, entrepreneurship, my desire for knowledge and attempts to suck the juice out of life has left many around me feeling… left behind.
Social Pressure on Relationships
There is a price to pay for everything. If you’re upwardly mobile and attempting to better multiple aspects of your life, you’re going to put some sort of pressure around the people around you. Especially your closest relationships.
Jealousy, envy, the projection of insecurities, these are real issues that B.S. life coaches do not tell you about.
Here’s a personal observation: Singaporeans, in general, are happy in their comfort zone. The majority go through the Singaporean education system, get a job and embark on their career. They are generally happy being surrounded by colleagues, University friends and childhood friends. Singapore is still a collectivistic culture, not an individualized one.
Our lifelong relationships are formed through our teenage years, NS days and our University days. They are largely shaped by social circumstances, as opposed to personal values.
If you decide to take leaps of faiths and start making decisions out of personal values, as opposed to cultural narratives, you’re going to inevitably stand out. This is a problem in itself. The Asian culture is big on giving and saving face. Our expression of values is different from Westernized cultures. However, if you’re upwardly mobile, you have to be expressive to a certain extent. Being expressive and directly confrontational is seen as a positive attribute in Westernized cultures, however, in Asian cultures, it can rub people off the wrong way.
However, what if you’re upwardly mobile and still value these lifelong relationships? There’s a conflict there. In my own life, as I start doing better in my own entrepreneurial career, I’ve attempted to hold on to old relationships because I still value them. However, things may not just work your way.
There’s no guarantee to success, however, a guarantee to misery and failure is to constantly play it nice.
Even by being slightly disagreeable, it can rub people around you the wrong way.
Last month, I debated a friend on the Singapore education system. I argued that it’s ineffective as it’s highly reliant on rote learning and memory work. She got pissed off. Instead of debating me on the intellectual aspects, she accused me of being overly cynical. Whenever people mix characterization in their debates, they are already reacting emotionally. That’s a projection, not a debate.
If you’re upwardly mobile and outspoken, you are going to face some form of psychological projection.
This also isn’t a one-off situation. I’ve got accused of being an egoist, a selfish bastard to being a spendthrift. I know these labels aren’t true, however, it hurts to hear such criticisms. They can also put self-doubt in you.
How do you deal with projection then? Is it enough to just take it in? From experience, stoicism isn’t enough.
There are 2 ways to deal with it:
1. Deal with it with compassion and ignore
One way of counteracting these frustrations is to seek meaningful pursuits. Through the years, how I’ve dealt with these events is to channel these frustrations back to improvement. However, there are limitations. Forget stoicism for a bit. You and I are emotional creatures. These frustrations can come back and hit you eventually. You can never use material success or any form of external success to place hurt.
2. Rebutt and force it down their throats
Sometimes, you got to let chips fall where they may and make a rebuttal. You don’t deserve the projection of anyone’s insecurities. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but from a physical and psychological standpoint, you can’t write poetry to a barbarian. You need to draw your sword.
Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist made a compelling argument in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. He argued that negative emotions such as resentment and anger exist for a reason. They serve an evolutionary purpose. This means: being pissed off and making a rebuttal can be actually healthy.
Growth is Painful
I left my accounting degree to pursue psychology and entrepreneurship. Risking that form of security means that I have no choice but to succeed. There’s a price to pay for such a risk. I wake up on most days feeling like I’m chased by a dog: the fear of failure.
I’m also acting against a deeply scripted Singaporean cultural narrative: ‘You NEED to get a degree by the time you’re 25! If not, you’re a failure’.
Even up until today, despite holding a Diploma, I haven’t quite gotten over this cultural script. I attribute this to my family facing bankruptcy once when I was young.
Secondly, I pretty much suck at doing anything that I’m not interested in. Even if someone paid me a good money or dangle carrots in my face, I’ll eventually give up and say: ‘I don’t care about the money. I can make it on my own anyway.’
This means: I need to step up no matter the cost.
This cost is paid in a multitude of micro ways. It can come in the slightest of forms: the day you start saying no to a friend who is always late for appointments. The day you start calling out your friend on his manipulative behaviours. The day you start asserting your boundaries. You’re going to get some sort of reaction somehow.
Your friends may start calling you out on being an uptight asshole. They may no longer hang out with you. You may be rejected by potential clients. You may be played out in business deals. There’s also a fear of facing the unknown, day in and day out.
However, this is the price of success. You’ll have to pay it regardless.
I’m currently in an awkward position in my life. I find myself skilled, articulate, motivated, independent and yet distant. For someone that prided himself on being empathetic, generally accepted and liked by everyone, making the transition to a less agreeable, dominant, leadership persona has its challenges.
However, what choice do I have? I have unleashed the dog on myself. I have also tasted the fruit of pushing my comfort zone. There is no going back.
Perhaps I’m still bitter about all that has happened through the years. However, you have to understand, I had no other choice but to pay the cost. There was no other way.