Friends Secretly Hope You Fail?

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Here’s some news that’s bound to be a bit disconcerting…people close to you secretly want you to fail.

They wish they didn’t feel this way and they feel terrible about it, but still, they can’t help covertly leaning into the desire to witness your downfall. And, if you’ve been on the “wishing for failure” side of the relationship, you’re not alone.

Picture this…

You’re a freshman in college, very much single, a bit on the dorky-side, but in a loveable way and, even so, oddly gifted at dancing.  One Friday night, you go to a big quad-party with your friend, Maurice.  No, he’s not imaginary. Through a barbeque-hazed crowd, both of your eyes land on an incredibly attractive “out of your league” sorority girl.

You knees melt, you know if she could see past your social status, it’d be kismet.

You want desperately to go say hello, you just sense there’s something really different, very special, life-changing about this person.  But, everyone around you has always said, you’re not the best looking or smartest one around, so don’t bother with those who are.

They’re beyond your reach.

Suddenly, Maurice, your equal in dorkdom until that moment, jumps up, walks casually over to the dream girl and ends up having the conversation of a lifetime.  That evening, during the barbeque-debriefing, you are regaled with how extraordinary Susie was and learn that the now super-cool Maurice has been invited to a sorority-party at the house next week as Susie’s date.

Of course, you’re thrilled for big Mo!  Right?  At least…

You want to be thrilled for him.

But, for reasons you don’t really get, you secretly want to smack him in the head if he doesn’t just shut up already and hope he gets crushed on the date. You don’t want to feel that way, but you do. This secret yearning for a friend’s failure is actually a relatively common reaction. The reason is rooted deeply in human nature.

Powerful forces underlie this disquieting urge.

Every word out of your friend’s mouth has now become a constant reminder of the fact that he went ahead and did exactly what you wanted desperately to do, but didn’t. And, until his quest falls apart, and you’re convinced it inevitably will, your buddy’s success increasingly becomes the very embodiment of your own unwillingness to reach out and take what you want in life.

Let’s skip ahead to Maurice’s date at the sorority house to really understand.

It’s the following Friday and Mo walks out, giddy at his good fortune.  He’s going to accompany Susie to a party at the coolest sorority on campus.  He arrives, knocks on the door, strolls in and is about to ask for the big-S, when there, before him lies…the sign.  The dreaded sign.  The one that reads, in hot pink letters, “Welcome to the Bring A Dork Sorority Bash.”  Mo’s world comes tumbling down.

As he returns to the dorm, crushed, you’re there to comfort him, college-style, with a big-fat Genny-cream beer-ball.  And, as much as you genuinely care about him and want him to feel better, you’re also smiling inside just a little bit. You wish you weren’t, but you are.

For in Mo’s tragedy, your inability or unwillingness to act has just been validated.  It lets you say or at least think, “see, it’s really not possible, I wasn’t missing out on anything by not trying…I told you so.”

Understanding this phenomenon helps a lot when YOU become Mo…

Let’s turn the tables. When you become Mo and Susie becomes your personal quest to succeed at something most people desperately want, but never try, there are going to be a lot of people, folks who genuinely care about you and others who couldn’t give a damn about you, looking for you to fail, because it’ll make them feel better for not trying.

The quest for a career defined by both passion and prosperity is a perfect example…

In a world where we are all raised to pursue success defined largely by standard of living, rather than quality of life, if you leave a mainstream job to pursue meaning, purpose and passion, many around you who, deep down want the same thing will feel increasingly uncomfortable. For a select few, right away you’ll become a source of belief and inspiration, but…

For many others, you’ll become a constant reminder of a professional life they dream of, but won’t do anything to get.

That’ll sting.  And, it’ll likely lead to a combination of public ridicule from some and, from others, a not-so-public desire to see you fail that may even rise to the level of backdoor condemnation, gossip or pseudo-sabotage.

Expect it. Know that, for most people, it’s being fueled less by genuine venom or a true disbelief in your abilities, and more by their own fear and need to buy into and validate the limiting beliefs that have taken them to this point in life.

In essence, while it’s not your intent, your striving for success causes them pain and they simply want that pain to end.

Understanding this will help you deal with it…and rise above it.

It’s likely that these mixed-emotion friends will hold fast to their opinions and emotions until you begin to actually succeed. Once your success rises to the level of irrefutable proof that you BOTH can accomplish something grand, there’s a good chance your friends’ secret desire to see you fail will evolve into to a desire to learn from your experience and maybe even follow in your footsteps.

So, what do yo think about this phenomenon?

Is it real? Have YOU ever been on either side?

If so, how’d you handle it? How’d it unfold?

What am I missing? Help me out here.

Let’s discuss…

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29 responses

29 responses to “Friends Secretly Hope You Fail?”

  1. Scheherazade says:

    When I advise people who are stuck in some way, I tell them to look for clues about what they want. One of those clues, I tell them, is envy. If you find yourself envying a friend, having dark feelings when you’d ordinarily be loving or supportive, that’s a clue. What’s dark in there? Is it a hope you are suppressing? I think envy and uncharacteristic schadenfreude can be really helpful clues to desires that are being unheeded. When people take the risks or take moves toward a life they want, envy of others seems to go away.

  2. Christy says:

    Wait. I’m a bit confused by this: “In essence, while it’s not your intent, your striving for success causes them pain and they simply want that pain the end.”

    Do you mean that they want the pain to end?

    And, yes, I think this is spot-on, having grown up in the dork/geek crowd and watching “The Breakfast Club” on the big screen in it’s original heyday.


    I love how age and experience can help soften some of these effects.

  3. Dave Navarro says:

    This absolutely happens all the time. I’ve had it happen to me, and I’ve done it when other people rock out … though I’ve gotten better at not doing that anymore 🙂

    Reminds me of a Steve Pavlina article on “Social Drag.” Google it for an interesting read.

  4. Toxic friends, toxic families, man. Keep away from them as much as you can or they will poison you. Worse, they do it under the guise of “love” and “care”.

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ scheherezade – Interesting way to look at envy as a tool to guide your decisions. Gonna think on that.

    @ Christy – typo fixed, and, yup, I am part of that same Breakfast Club gen, though, while the stories have changed, the theme and experience is still pretty timeless.

    @ Dave – Yeah, it’s always funny when I feel the envy/secret desire to stumble thing rear it’s ugly head in me. You love to think you’re above it, but, hey, last I checked, I was still human. But, like scheherazade shared, at least if you know what’s going on, you’re better equipped to transform that energy from envy into action

    @ Michael – Funny thing is, I wonder if folks even realize what’s happening beneath the surface, my bet is they don’t, they want to stop hurting and uncercutting you is a bit like psychic Motrin. It’ll help for a bit, but it wares of quickly and leaves you with a new pain in your belly. 🙂

  6. Jane Chin says:

    This is the same phenomenon that drives couples apart when one spouse begins to change (even if for the better), and the same reason why many Ph.D. scientists transitioning to a non-research job faces bias and discouragement.

    People get together for different reasons, but they stick together for emotional reasons: there is an emotional exchange in a relationship. Sometimes this exchange borders on pathological, and unhealthy for both parties.

    I’ve known coaches who advise their clients not to disclose everything to their spouses or friends at the beginning, for this very reason. While I have reservations about keeping secrets from a spouse, but I understand the rationale. I’ve been fortunate in not having to keep my desire for change or movement in a certain direction from either my spouse or my friends.

  7. Kim says:

    Unfortunately I know exactly what you are talking about. I have been on the receiving end of this behavior since I decided to go to law school at age 39. My friends, some of which are gone, and even my parents, have had trouble coming to terms with it. As a result, I think I gained weight to somehow “equalize it.” Crazy, huh? Somehow, I (subconsciously) thought maybe it would change if I was pursuing my dream AND fat. Fortunately, I have seen the error of my ways, am now losing the weight, and am supported by an amazing husband, kids, and a few great friends. It’s hard not to just say “screw you, I am smart, beautiful, AND happy,” but I am I am trying to be a little more compassionate and just keep doing what I am doing.

    BTW, love your site…Kim

  8. I know I say this every blog post…this is my new favorite post.

    A few years ago when I left Corporate America to start my own company, I was the envy of my friends. One of “us” finally did it!

    My friends wanted me to succeed, but I began to lose touch with some of them. Why did none of them respond to my emails about attending one of my new seminars, etc..?

    I learned with some of those friends that our friendship was based around the convenience of attending the same workplace every day. When I left that physical workplace, so did our interaction.

    With my best friends, I learned over time that I needed to know how to ask for their help in a different way. I also learned to take the emphasis from “look at Matthew, he had the guts to leave and start his own company.”

    Two years ago, I created a Personal Advisory Board. My friends say it is a spin-off from “Entourage” but it is much more serious. Twice a year, I have a Board Meeting with selected five friends and mentors. My personal and professional life is an open book during that Board Meeting. Finances, health, revenue, expenses, fatherhood, etc… is focused upon.

    Best and scariest accountability decision I ever made.

    I have been blessed to fly the “Board” to a different location every year where I have five talented men & woman care enough to make me the best I can be.

  9. This whole time I was thinking that all of my friends were behind me 100%:) It’s true, jealously does get in the way sometimes. But your true friends should always cheer you on no matter what. Having said this, it kind of annoys me that none of my friends have ever purchased products from us to help support our business. Whereas on the flip side, we have always supported them in their business pursuits. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our friendships:) Your next post should be on how to determine who your true friends really are. I’d love to hear your points of view. Great article! I love your writing style

  10. julie says:

    The comments in this post are almost as good as the post itself. Nice stuff!! And for me, very interesting timing. You see, this is day 2 of my “semi-retirement”. I left my cozy/long time job last week… at a time when many of my colleagues are getting laid off…people who know me well were not surprised by the move, but others were shocked yet strangely excited by it. What was driving their excitement? Hope that I will become super successful? Hmm… I would like to think so, but I suspect not.

    It’s pretty early on in my decision to see who is really supporting me and who is just staying close to watch what they secretly hope is me falling flat on my face…but I know there are definitely people sitting in both camps.

    This post is a great one for me to keep in the back of my mind over the coming months. Thank you!!

  11. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jane – interesting insights about how this interplay unfolds in personal relationships and marraiges!

    @ Kim – Yeah, we all deal with stress and lack of support in different ways, part of the challenge is always discovering healthy outlets. And, hopefully, having a better understanding of what might really be happening can help you feel more confident

    @ Matthew – I love the idea of a personal advisory board. I’m a big believer in creating regular accountability and feedback systems, will have to add that to the list

    @ Steve – Thanks for your kind words. The interesting thing is, it’s not so much a voluntary or willful response, if it was, it’d be a lot easier to deal with from both sides of the relationship. Just because they have their own struggles with how what you are doing impacts the way they feel about themselves doesn’t mean they are not real friends. It just means they’re human…aren’t we all 🙂

  12. Very interesting topic, not a lot of people talk about this but glad you did !

    From your story in the post I understood that is more so jealously and personal doubt.

    As in my own experience;
    I feel not only do friends do this but family as well.

    When I decided 10 years ago to move to France and follow my dream of living and working here. My friends and family try to discourage me ” saying I’ll never make it and to give up on a pipe dream “. Me voila 10 yrs later and I achieved my goal.

    I am now to a point that when I set goal – plans for myself I don’t
    tell anyone until after I have achieved to avoid all the negative-jealous comments.

    When my Friend or Family set goal for themselves;
    I am happy for them and supportive.
    I always tell them if it doesn’t involve death then just do it!
    Life is for the living and having no regrets.

  13. Trout says:

    All of this is just great fodder for the reflection mill. Thank you! Having decided to pursue a serious acting career at 47, dealing with the definitions of success, failure, the support of others, friends, etc. has been an every day experience for me.

    What I now know is that since I can’t control how other people will act and feel towards me, my biggest work has been to focus on my own “stuff.” To find ways to OWN those nasty elements of envy and jealousy inside ME, to understand where they’re coming from, find ways to transform them so they don’t eat me alive, and give myself the very things I’d wish for others… lots of joy and understanding.

    Somehow this seems to help me be more sane on this wild ride.

  14. Laura Roeder says:

    This is something that I’ve heard many times but I never really understood it until now – your explanation that people don’t dislike YOU they are just feeling negative about their own lives makes so much sense.

    When I read this it just reinforces even more how important it is to surround yourself with positive, joyful people who are living loves they love. Those people are too busy enjoying their own success to worry about yours!

  15. Chris Zydel says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Just found your blog recently and I just gotta say…. you are one heck of a writer! And a great storyteller!!! Which is greatly appreciated.

    I agree with Scheherazade that those envious feelings can be a source of really helpful information in terms of what someone wants in their life. It certainly works for me! And yes, it is painful to be around someone I love who has something that I want……and here is the real source of the pain….. but don’t think I can ever have. If someone I know achieves success in some area of their life and I believe that I CAN get there at some point, then I find that person to be a source of inspiration.

    When I find myself in that painful envy place I have two choices: I can either work on that belief in myself and see if I am ready to heal and change it or find some new friends that don’t challenge me so much!

    Thanks for a great post!

  16. Rachael says:

    Ohhh yessss!
    I have had my first real taste of this just recently.
    I thought that now in my 30,s I was done with all this toxic friends…but during my recent marriage problems I have really found out who my genuine friends are.
    The woman I thought of as my closet friend for the past 7+ years has turned on me, and my business partner dumped my sorry butt!
    My counselor tells me it is a sort of jealousy and wanting to see me hurt sort of thing from both of these close “friends”…the 2 women I had confided in the most.
    So, now 3 months later, although I am still licking my wounds a little, I have left these 2 behind and focusing on the genuine, heartfelt support and understanding I DO HAVE in my life.
    I am so thankful to be free of obligation to those who wish to see me fall. They can only make me STRONGER! BRING IT ON!
    I am here to LIVE and go CONFIDENTLY!

  17. Martin says:

    I like the point Scheherazade makes, be aware of your negative feelings and use them as a guide for positive change. Or in other words understand your emotions and know where they are leading you.

  18. Maya says:

    Very well written article Johnathan!
    I love this phenomenon. It feels pretty cool when I see it in action. It really helps me deal with the situation. I have experienced this plenty within my family – older folk never think you are actually grown up …and they hate it when you do not hide behind their skirts. Arghhh. But very understandable!

  19. Stephen says:

    This phenomenon is very real. I think it probably happens most often in the area of diet/exercise/weight loss. There is almost always a saboteur that consciously or unconsciously does or says things to sabotage people’s efforts at betterment.

    I like your advice to rise about it. Just continue on with confidence in your plan of action and when you get the results others will come around.

    Thanks for the post.


  20. Eric Deeter says:

    Once you become known to a group of friends or even associates, they are reluctant to let you break out of the category in which they’ve placed you. I was a member of a referral network. I wanted to move out and diversify into other businesses. They only knew me as the “faux finish guy”. It was a subtle pressure, but I knew I had to get away from the group if I was going to make any change.

  21. Ivy says:

    I’ve had this experience in my relationship. People who saw us happy together, but who were less happy with their own relationships, would react badly. Sometimes deliberate sabotage but more often a subtle, even subconscious, unkindness and lack of support. This happened when we first met. This happens even now after 18 years (although much less frequently).

    It’s the same with other types of success as well. You have to guard against it. We often tell the world of our pursuits counting on others’ good energy and good will… but that’s not always what we receive.

  22. jeb says:

    great post, and i’m guilty as charged. i hate that about me. and based on the comments above, and my own experience with this issue, i cant help but wonder where it comes from.

    you say it’s ‘rooted deeply in human nature’, but i’m not so sure. that would suggest it’s a genetic thing, something we’re born with. i disagree with that. i think it is a reflection of our society, its flaws, the whole ‘get good grades, go to college, get a steady job’ mantra. the wholesale disregard for nurturing our passions and purpose.

    if more of us were encouraged from a young age to hold true to the dreams, to follow the path that serves our better selves, we wouldn’t begrudge others when they do it themselves. we’d welcome it…we’d encourage and support them and find joy in their effort, and more-so in their success. THAT, i think, is our true nature.

    may we all find our way back to it..and let me know if i can help you along the way.


  23. Shannon Paul says:

    This is touching on a lot of what I’ve been experiencing lately. The odd thing is that while many inside my social circle are acting as if I’m now suddenly successful, all I see are the challenges that lie ahead.

    Honestly, it’s a pretty lonely place to be. I would love to be able to talk to my friends about some of the things that I’m going through as a result of some recent success, but many either can’t fully comprehend the intricacies of the issues I’m facing, or respond in a way that seems less than empathetic.

    This post has really helped me decide to do something to make sure I can get the support I need. I also really, really LOVE Matthew’s idea of putting together a personal advisory board.

    Thanks so much, Jonathan, for writing this post. I think it’s just what I needed. 🙂

  24. @Shannon Paul, Go for it & start your own personal advisory board.

    I promise you will benefit & just as importantly so will your Board.

    Just remember: They must be uber-talented & wicked truthful to care enough to make you better. Most of the time, this means it is not some of the people you spend the most time with…

    Let me know of your success with your Board.

    Be Well,


  25. Joy says:

    I love, love, love this article. It is so true, yet seems to be never talked about. I have spent years in therapy and tons of money trying to figure out what you have been able to capture in this article. I have the blessing and the curse to have been successful at a young age. I have worked extremely hard and made many sacrifices to be in the place that I am. But, for some reason, the people around me whom I call friends (which I need to start re-evaluating) don’t ever seem to be happy for me. And, sometimes, it feels like they take joy in hearing about my bad times even. I used to think it was my imagination, but then aquaintances would take notice of comments made… I truly believe that it comes from peoples innate nature to be competitive — ultimately they wish to see me fail– whether it be a business venture or investment or marathon — because when I reach my goal it is a reminder to them that they didn’t even set one.

  26. This kind of situation is common since its normal for other people to establish envy towards others. Dreaming they are much higher, landed in a nicer position having a high salary, enjoying a prosperous life compare to their fellow mate. The only way to cure this is to establish self awareness and stop being selfish. Learn the value of self contentment.

  27. David says:

    It’s too bad that human nature is what it is. So many people are envious of other peoples success as if it somehow takes away from them. There are people in the world who will be genuinely happy for you when you succeed. Look to associate with them and make sure you are equally supportive of them when they succeed.

  28. ZenDoc says:

    I am getting my nose rubbed in this right now. I have a golf buddy that is always trying to interject negativity. He is a bit older than me, and I am 56. He says things like “after 50 your health is a crap shoot”. About 7 months ago I started intense strength training and of course “you can’t because you lose strength when you get older”. I weigh 190#, am 11% body fat, and bench pressed 250# and leg pressed 660#. Now my workout success is “that weight lifting crap” according to my golf friend. Prior to starting on this course my younger wife would make fun of me, telling me I was getting old, and fat. Now if I share an accomplishment with her she just bitterly says “I wish I could workout!”. Of course she has a membership at the same gym, but chooses to be “too busy” to actually use it. I played golf today, and scored well and was hitting the ball much farther that even a month ago. I made the mistake of shareing that with her. Her comment was “enjoy it while you can”. That really pissed me off. Made me feel like she doesn’t care about me, and wants to see me old and frail. Makes me wonder IF I should be married at all. Anyway thanks for giving me a place to rant!

  29. Matt says:

    Absolutely fantastic Sir. They gettin’ downright nasty at this point.