Friendly Saboteurs and Champions

Who is preventing you from living the life you want?

In 2002, I was part of a pioneer group of students working toward our Master’s degrees in Counseling. This group of students were mostly late twenties, early thirties individuals who were looking to start new careers and take a different path in their lives. I tell you this because you should be able to glean from this information that these people would be sensitive, caring, thoughtful, and nurturing people who understood setting goals and having aspirations. Correct? Hardly.  One day I brought a magazine to class to read before we got started. I was reading the magazine when one of my cohorts sat down next to me. She briefly glanced at the cover of the magazine and then rudely snatched it out of my hands to get a better gander at the woman on the front of the magazine. When she did, her face screwed up into a look of disgust and she exclaimed, “Oh gross! You don’t want to look like that do you?” The magazine was a women’s fitness magazine, a fairly narrow niche market of magazines I had clearly and intentionally purchased with my hard earned money- as opposed to found in the lobby -thereby implying by its very existence in my hand that yes, perhaps I did want to look like her. The woman on the cover was not a body builder, but she was a very fit woman who had visible muscles and six pack abs. I worked out 5 times a week and was a personal trainer, something everyone in our small group knew, so why was it a shock or surprise to this particular girl that I might be striving for visible abs of my own or that I might want to look like a fitness model?

Its been over ten years and I still think about that day. I feel fortunate that I was a strong and confident woman who had a very healthy self-esteem and I was able to simply say, “Yes, actually I do” and snatch the magazine back from her, but the moment has remained with me because it is such a wonderful example of a friendly saboteur. This girl was my friend, we’d spent the better part of a  year together in a group of twelve people. We knew each other very well, we had championed each other on to finish the coursework and give presentations; I considered her a friend. Why would a friend ever try to thwart my efforts to improve myself or reach a healthy goal? Why would someone hoping to enter into the profession of helping lost or mentally ill people insensitively blurt out a comment that implied I was both disgusting and my goal was ridiculous? (after all, for all she knew I did look like this woman naked). This was when I first thought of friendly saboteurs. Why did she do it? I’ll never know for sure, but I could hazard a few guesses. Most of them related to her own self-worth or feelings of inadequacy. Maybe it was threatening to her that I had a healthy lifestyle. Maybe her mother had told her athletic girls will never get married. I’ll never know, but that day I walked away from any future relationship with her because it was clear she would never be able to fully support me as a person and that she was relatively unhappy.

Have you ever noticed that happy people can find the silver lining to just about anything? Happy people, who are content in life, or who have goals they are working on are a joy to be around. They are full of energy, they want to help you with your goals, they support your efforts even if it isn’t something they understand. Happy people attract happy people. People who naysay or thwart your efforts in pursuit of happiness are usually unhappy people themselves. Unhappy people attract unhappy people. These are the emotional vampires of life. If you have a lot of “Friends” that complain frequently, are always a victim of something, or spend the majority of their time using negative talk without actively seeking to improve their situations with clear actions and goals, then the chances are very good that YOU are also not very happy. Studies show that if you want to achieve happiness or specific goals, that you should surround yourself with happy, similar oriented people, or at least you should not surround yourself with the friendly saboteurs and emotional vampires. It is hard to reach a goal if someone else is telling you all the reasons you can’t, that it isn’t a good goal or even a necessary goal, or is busy telling you why they can’t reach their own goals,  or yikes! worse still they have no goals. These people do not want you to succeed because your success only points out their failures- at least in their minds.

A couple of months after I had my second son a friend graciously told me I looked great. She was being nice and doing what friends do. I had just had a baby a few months back and I looked ok considering. I remarked that I still had 20 pounds to go to get to my pre pregnancy weight so I was excited to get back in the gym, and as all good friends have been trained to do, she responded,”But you look great right now.” Your first thought might be “what a nice person” or if you were me you might have thought, cool bring on the brownies ! The point of this story isn’t did I look good or didn’t I? It isn’t even that all good friends should lie and tell you that you look great with 20  pounds of extra skin and muffin top. My friend meant well, I have no doubt she thought she was being supportive and nice, but what she said was actually another example of the friendly saboteur. She negated my healthy goal by responding with a canned response instead of a thoughtful reply,  she supplied me with an excuse NOT to apply effort toward my goal by implying there was no need for it, and she belittled its importance to me by not engaging me in conversation about my goal or how I planned to reach it. If she really felt I didn’t need to lose 20 pounds, why not ask me why I thought I should? If she really felt it would be unhealthy or I would be too thin, why not help me address the issue or conquer my closet anorexic? Why? Because neither of those were true. The real reason she felt uncomfortable with my statement probably had more to do with her than with me. The real reason she said what she said was to avoid discussing the topic altogether. By avoiding the topic,  she shows she either doesn’t really care if I lose 20 pounds (thereby proving that possibly she only likes me on a superficial level) or she is intimidated that I might actually lose the 20 pounds and feel and look better. Wait what?! Why wouldn’t a friend want me to look or feel better? That doesn’t make sense. No it doesn’t, hence, the friendly saboteur. People  thwart whatever they are most afraid of. Maybe she felt she needed to lose weight, or had been trying to lose weight without success. Maybe she was afraid that if I lost weight she would feel bad about her own lack of progress. Maybe she didn’t think any of these things, and she just doesn’t actually care.

Interestingly enough, lots of friends fall into this category. Its almost like no one ever taught them how to be friends or how not to be self-serving. What a real friend should do is keep you honest, help you create or maintain happiness, and truly engage in your goals. Its a tall order to be sure, but that is why life is really only filled with  a few good friends and a lot of other so called friends. My few good friends get where I am on this journey, my so called friends think I’m just writing a blog. They are nice folks, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that they want me to fail or want my life to be dreadful, its just that no one ever taught them what it meant to be supportive or they are too busy worrying about themselves to do so. Its ok, I don’t hate them or begrudge them their path, it just doesn’t align with my path.

It is important that you assess your friends and family. At the beginning of any great change or project it is important to know who is truly on your side and who might be waiting in the wings to thwart your efforts or tempt you to detour from the goal. Make a list if you need too. Write down the people in your life that you hold most dear. Now write down the people you have the most actual contact with. Consider what both groups have contributed to your journey in life. Consider those that are obviously saboteurs, these are the “You don’t want to look like that do you?” people. Cross them off right now. Those folks will never get it. They don’t understand their own journey much less yours and I’m here to tell you from experience you don’t have time to save them. They may be nice and all that, but they can’t help you live an Intentional Life. Now consider which ones mean well, but never hit the mark. You can keep those folks around, but you might want to look at what they bring to your life and the value you receive from the connection. If they allow you to lose sight of your true happiness or they nicely give you excuses to avoid working hard, then you should limit your time with them. You know who these folks are (Come on, don’t worry about [insert your personal goal here] just have one more drink!)

Life is short and you should be looking for people who champion you, not limit you.

Has any great athlete or sports team had a coach that just showed up and did the basics of the job, but didn’t really care if the person excelled or the team won? Hell no! Not in the history of winning has that been a recipe for success. You should treat your life and your goal of intentional living like a winning sports team and only allow in the people who will make you better, stronger, or closer to your goals. See those other folks on holidays or Facebook. Now consolidate the list of those who are left. This list should be the people who really engage with you, who promote your goals as if they were their own, who aren’t intimidated by your success but instead are inspired by it. They are the people who inspire you or make your life rich and full of excitement (the good kind, not the drama kind).

Here are three examples from my own life:

My husband is definitely my champion. We should all be so lucky. This man believes every silly goal I throw out there and genuinely appears to think I can attain them all, from making my child a super star to earning extra money online, this man hears a goal and immediately jumps on the train of crazy that is likely to ensue. I say I want 6 pack abs and he bets me he can get there first. Talk about motivation! My husband knows I love to work out, knows that it is a part of being happy and healthy and in good shape to be a mom, so he supports it by making sure I stay motivated, have time to get to the gym, and I stay on track.

I have a good friend whom I adore and love but her life is very full and she is pulled in many directions. She is the means well friend. It isn’t really her fault that she can’t champion me, but she just can’t offer more than the “that’s nice, you look great” response either. This doesn’t make her a bad person, actually I think it makes her an overwhelmed person who has trouble letting people down, but that is a post for later. She is a good friend who would never naysay my dreams, but she can’t champion them either. Not her fault, but I know better than to invite her on the ride even if I miss her face.

Last, my friendly saboteur, this woman thinks sarcasm is a great way to be mean and still appear friendly. She criticizes everything from my choice in music to my husband. Its all done tongue in cheek mind you and with a smile on her face, but the experience is draining, overwhelming and leaves me feeling empty (emotional vampire anyone?) and incapable. Two things NOT conducive to reaching a goal or changing my life. I’m sure somewhere in her heart she loves me and cares for me, but she can’t manage to show up, say anything nice, or really engage. She is probably reacting to things in her own life or a history she is letting define her. But I can’t save anyone but myself. So what is the point of this friendship? Well, there isn’t one, so off the list she goes.

You don’t need to tell people you made a list, or what list they ended up on. The list is for you and should serve as a guide to who you let in on this journey and who you don’t. I have purposefully made my journey VERY public because I know me and that is very motivating to be held accountable by friends and strangers alike, but that style doesn’t work for a lot of people. Some people find that what others think of them is a huge influencer, that if someone is not on board with the goal, then that means there is something wrong with the goal. If you are one of those people then keep the dream to yourself for the moment. If someone can’t champion you, then they can’t be involved, its as simple as that.

In order for you to reach your goal of living an intentional life and discovering your intentional identity you need to surround yourself with champions of your cause.

If you don’t have any, then you MUST remove the saboteurs and find some like minded people. Maybe you will find them here on this blog. Maybe I am one of them, maybe your spouse is waiting to be one of them, maybe that lady behind you in line to get coffee is one. You must look for and attract those people who will support your goal of living better and being happier. How do you do this? You start projecting your goal to those around you doing similar things. This is going to be a tough road. This is going to be the uphill climb. If it wasn’t, you’d already be doing it! Who do you want on your side as you take this journey? The person who will tell you that you are fine as is? The person who will tell you the journey is a waste of time and just silly new age mumbo jumbo? Or the person who says, “Okay! Me too! I bet I get there first” as they grab your hand and take off running?


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