I was talking to my friend Margo about a chronic issue that spanned more than a few of my life categories.
She said to me–simply, plainly, without judgment–
“You always complain about this.”
The shock of her words was somatic. I experienced them in every cell of my being.
My default response to anyone’s frank feedback used to be: “How dare this person say that! Why would this person say that to me? This is their crap, not mine. I’m so hurt that they would say that, so they must be the mean one, here!”
Luckily, I’ve orbited the sun enough times to understand that what I feel as a default response is not always the full truth of a situation.
I took a deep breath. What do I know of Margo? That she is an incredibly loving champion of her friends. She lavishes praise when it’s due. She’ll go the extra mile to support someone, to let them know that she utterly cherishes them.
Sure, she could have phrased it differently. She could have just let me vent.
She was choosing, instead, to do something that we’ve created enough safety in our friendship to have: truth-telling that helps one another move past delusion.
What Kind of Friend Are You?
I see this all of the time, especially with business: People simply don’t want to tell a friend the “truth.”
They want to “support” the friend. They want to tell the friend to go after their dreams. The friend calls to say how excited they are that they’re going to start a new product line or quit a job, and the people around them go– “Good for you! That’s so awesome! The world needs this; it’s about time! I’m so happy for you!”
People do this because they believe in the friend and–let’s just be honest–they want to be seen as supportive.
I think this approach to “being supportive” is catastrophically fucked, for the person who is assuming the risk.
Because most people who use the cheerleading of friends to help them bypass internal doubt and hesitation, end up paying for it–there’s more struggle.
True “support” is the friend who reflects back honestly what they see (and true adulthood would be the receiver’s willingness to take what they like, and leave the rest).
With entrepreneurship, some people are incredibly lucky and all turns out as they had hoped when they decide to “leap, and the net will appear.” For the vast majority? Nope. It’s a recipe for Business Heartbreak. There is added (and possibly unnecessary) struggle.
The net will appear, but it will take far more than those initial pom-pom cheers to make it happen. Most friends don’t want to be labeled as unsupportive, so they don’t point that out. They don’t ask questions. They don’t bring up possible challenges.
Those years of struggle? Valuable. Every experience has something to teach us.
At the same time, I say: “Give me the friends who will tell me the truth, and tell it clean–and please, God, give me the strength to be open to hearing it, without deflection.”
“Handling” the Truth
Instead of “Just go for it!” someone might be better supported by hearing…
“I love you–and–have you considered this other approach?”
“Hmmm. I know you’re really excited about this, and yet I don’t know that that’s such a great idea. Here’s why I’m thinking that.”
“I worry about ________ happening if you do that. I’m wondering if you’ve tried…? Have you already thought about…?”
But, caveat emptor! You will encounter wrath from some people, if you do this.
Most people do not choose to be willing to “handle” the truth.
Most people simply cast off anyone who doesn’t rally to their cause and tell them how awesome they are.
Most people who do this, don’t realize that they are doing this. They shut down anyone who offers a critical perspective or a counter-argument, or they withdraw from them. They deflect.
They might even go to all of the “You’re so awesome!” friends, and bitch about the person who didn’t tell them they were awesome.
This was a huge dynamic in my friendships in my 20s. I seemed to chronically align myself with people who didn’t want anything other than validation of their choices, and who struggled to tell me the truth if they were upset with me.
I can see how we all need validation for our choices. I also can see how having a friend who cares enough to propose alternatives, ask critical questions, and try to get to the bottom of the truth, is invaluable.
Margo knows that she has this permission in our friendship. I’ve directly asked that she always tell me the truth.
Most importantly? I back that up by not making her the Bad Guy, when she does.
Take a deep breath, and ask yourself: Have you set up your friendships in such a way that the door is open for your friends to offer their feedback, and you’re willing to receive it and decide what you want to do with it–without making them wrong?
What usually arises when someone doesn’t want to “handle” the truth is deflection. I’m guessing you’ve seen this in your life, too.
Someone asks you straight up for advice, and then when you give your take on it, they get upset: “I just wanted someone to hear me out!”
Someone talks to you about a problem in their life, and then they get upset with you. “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s the WAY you’re saying it,” they say.
Sometimes it’s true–we get mixed up. We ask for advice when we want hugs; the people we talk to get on a power trip and deliver criticism harshly, instead of kindly.
But how often is it the opposite? How often is it that someone who genuinely loves you and wants to help might be trying to offer you an incredible gift–one that you’re resistant to hearing–and you reject it?
Don’t Support My Delusion
In my 20s, I grew tired of the dynamic of not being able to tell my friends the truth of what I saw. I grew tired of suspecting that I wasn’t getting the full truth from them. Those were friendships that simply could not last. Any foundation built on lies (including the dishonesty of keeping silence) cannot last.
And when did the truths in those friendships finally come out? At the end, when we were saying good-bye. The truth was (finally) revealed, but by then there was no willingness to work on changing anything.
I remember thinking, “If you’d talked to me about that thing I did two years ago, maybe I could have apologized or done something differently–but now I only half-remember what you’re saying I did that’s the cause of all of this drama. How could we have ever fixed this, under such circumstances?”
It astonishes me how often I hear women talking about other women, bad-mouthing friends for things that the other party probably has no idea they’re even doing, setting up the situation so that change is impossible.
“What does she say when you try talking to her about it?”
Cue uncomfortable silence. Sentences that are started and re-started. The admission that no attempt to talk has been made.
What in the world are we doing to one another?
The icy shock of Margo’s words were hard to hear, but as I considered the last five conversations I could remember, there was something even more shocking:
She was telling the truth. I had been complaining.
After that, I became so acutely aware of that complaining dynamic, that the problem I’d struggled with actually started to shift and become better.
That’s what being “supportive” really looks like: someone who cares enough to tell you the truth, trusting that you are adult enough to decide what you want to do with it.
The next time you’re inspired and someone reminds you that the road might be hard, don’t cast them off as a “wet blanket” who “doesn’t support” you.
The next time someone offers you feedback about how you show up, hold the space that yes, this is their experience, and also–they might be right. Their feedback might be vitally important.
The next time anything unpalatable arises, be willing to look at the truth it might be trying to teach you.
“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
~ Rumi ~