The Paradox Of Success

“If you became successful in order to be popular, you made a huge mistake.”

Tony was a very fun, very consistent early morning client of mine. And, those very astute words came directly from his mother.

You see, Tony was a very successful (VERY successful) attorney here in NYC. He was a high-level partner at a large firm that he’d worked at his entire career. His skill level and loyalty gave him a lot of seniority and, in turn, made him a lot of money.

So much money, in fact, that he bought an island.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. What Tony and his husband did was invest in, quite literally, all the commercial real estate in a predominantly gay neighborhood on Fire Island which, for those of you who don’t know, is a relatively small, very beautiful seasonal vacation spot off the south shore of Long Island.

For a while, things were going great. Tony and his team were able to shore up some of the retail infrastructure, night clubs and bars that were so vital to the viability and spirit of the community. They hosted huge events and parties designed to bring people together. They were trying to embrace and enhance the community that had become so important to them over the years.

But, as tends to happen when money and change are involved, not everyone saw these changes as positive. Tony was also met with a ton of resistance, negativity and hate.

Tony was a stoic yet emotional guy and I can see that it was getting to him. And when he confided these feelings to his Mom she delivered that bit of tough love above.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: I only know Tony’s side of the story. Maybe the residents had every reason and right to be pissed at what was going down).

People will not always be happy for your success. This is true in business, it’s true in relationships and it is definitely true when it comes to your fitness.

In the beginning, people will be very kind.

“You look great!”

“Wow! How much weight have you lost?”

“You squat what?!? That’s crazy!”

But then, as you continue to improve, and the sacrifices you make when it comes to your time (“I can’t watch the Friends reunion right now, I’m heading to the gym.”), your food (“I know it’s Dolores’s birthday but I’m laying off the cake.”) and your social calendar (“That warehouse rave over in Bushwick sounds awesome but that 2AM start time might be a little aggressive for me.”) will come with resistance at best and downright anger and envy at worst.

Sometimes, when the results come on fast and furious, and your appetite for progress exponentially increases, you need to keep in mind that some people in your life will really struggle with that change. They’ll miss the old “let’s take a road trip to find the best hot dog in Delaware” you.

And while that’s understandable, so often these responses are just an uncomfortable mirror that reflects how dissatisfied they are with themselves. People don’t want to be confronted with that level of pain. And seeing others overcome their own challenges can bring out some subversive or ugly reactions.

This leaves you with some choices to make. Do you cave to the pressure and fall back into your old ways in order to satisfy the desires of those around you? Do you cut those people out of your life and surround yourself with like-minded individuals who get it? Make some concessions and slow down the progress you desire? I can’t make these decisions for you but, as someone who has faced this myself, I can tell you the choices aren’t as easy as you hope they would be.

Tony ended up selling his home and his entire stake in the island. And when talking to him about it, reading between the thinly veiled lines, I could sense that he had grown to hate the thing he once loved.

His success made him unpopular. Just like his mother predicted.