Your Growth is Off-putting, Pal

A recent coaching conversation accessed an old memory and floated it to the surface of my mind. It was of a long-ago friend, someone I met at work during what is now referred to as a gap year. “You’ve changed since you started college,” she said to me a couple of years later, after the drudgery of my job spurred my desire to return to school, after my professors had provoked me to see the world with greater width and depth.

She wasn’t simply making an observation; she was frustrated with me, disappointed.

Maybe you have experienced the same, the friends who pulled away or even fully dropped out as you uncovered more of your authentic self. Maybe you’ve even had a romantic relationship wither under the tectonic shifts of your personal evolution.

It can feel like abandonment, can’t it? The fear that is evoked by the displeasure of those we love can easily form into the stumps and boulders clogging our path forward… and yet muscles and awareness can grow as we evade those stumps and scramble over the boulders.

So, what is it that others sometimes find so off-putting about our growth? What keeps those who love us from loving our forming selves as much as they love our current selves?

My friendship with this woman lasted for many years after her frustrations began which gave me the chance to learn that her judgment was really of herself. She wasn’t seeing my evolution or accomplishments; she was seeing the lack of her own (in her opinion). My college graduation, for her, highlighted the degree she didn’t finish. When I got married, it highlighted her as-of-yet unmet desire for the same. And so on.

I was also breaking a fundamental unspoken agreement in our friendship which had formed, in significant part, over our shared histories of violent relationships in our teen years. She was only slightly less entrenched in her lingering depression than I was when we met and our earliest friendship was centered around the numbing power of sitting silently together on her couch while we ingested television, food, and cigarettes. Though it would be many more years before I finally pulled fully out of depression, my movement out of the fog challenged our shared stagnation.

A more overt explanation was there, too: She liked who I was when we first met more than who I was becoming. All I can say to that one is: Fair enough.

For the change-averse, those of us who engage willingly and actively with our own evolution can be baffling, even frustrating. We could choose to mute our shine for them, sure, and I get how tempting that can be, especially when our gremlins are yammering on about how we’ve done something wrong to provoke our loved ones.

Growing isn’t a misstep, though. Bring the compassion big time, bring the acceptance that we each have our own paths to walk, and take the polishing rag to your radiant self; your shine carries with it the best you have to give to this world.

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