There are two types of people in this world.
- The person who can’t fathom that friends and family would personally attack you if you started a business.
- Business Owners.
I’ve personally struggled with this aspect of starting a business. Making it a subject I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time now. So let’s dive right in.
When You Start a Business, Most People Will React Negatively
When I started my first business, I had no idea a society-wide negative reaction was about to take place. Nobody ever talks about this, so I didn’t know it was a thing.
The main reason I wrote this post is so that when this happens to you, you’ll realize that you’re not alone.
I had assumed starting a business was the American dream, why would I have to be on the defensive about that? So when the personal attacks from my friends and family started mounting, I was dumbfounded.
At first, I assumed this was unique to my relationships vs. the direct result of starting a business. But then it just kept happening. And not with a select few people. I found myself on the defensive about my business with almost everybody that I mentioned it to.
So I began scouring Facebook for a group of entrepreneurs. I had one question for them. “Are personal attacks common when starting a business, or are they specific to my relationships?”
I got hundreds of responses, they ALL said the exact same thing. Here are 9 of the top replies.
Those heartfelt responses say it better than I ever could. I hope the universality of this experience makes you feel better. It made me feel a lot better when I realized this was common.
But, let’s keep going because I have much more to say on this subject.
The Personal Attacks Don’t Come Out of Genuine Concern
When you inform non-entrepreneurs that an adversarial reaction to starting a business is commonplace, the first thing they’ll say is…
“Your friends and family are probably just doing this out of genuine concern, they’re afraid you’re getting scammed.”
At face value, this seems plausible. I know plenty of people who have gotten scammed by some type of multi-level marketing scheme. Usually, these scams involve essential oils, a utility company, or going to college for more money than you’ll ever earn in your entire career.
Plus, no matter how mundane your business is, it carries inherent risks. Even if the only risk is that your business will stop making money one day, that’s still a difficult thing to go through. And starting a business could go much worse for you than that. So I’m not arguing there’s no room for genuine concern when starting a business.
What I am saying is that…
Owning a business is a little bit like having a kid. You love what you’ve created so much that you’ll happily talk about it all day long to anybody that will listen.
If any of my friends or family members asked me about the risks involved in my business. I’d have talked their ear off about it. I love talking shop to rational people. That said, that’s not the type of reaction you’ll be getting from people.
The Reactions Come From Insecurity
For me, the most significant negative reactions came when I started making money. Prior to that, people just kind-of scoffed at me for wasting my time on a pipe dream.
These are the most common things my friends and family members were saying to me once the money started coming in.
- Accusing me of making the business up entirely and saying it doesn’t actually exist.
- Saying I got lucky. I must have hit the lottery to accomplish this.
- Telling me over and over again how I’m going to screw it up.
- Accusing me of being a scam artist. Any product I sell must be a scam because I’m not a real business.
- That I don’t work as hard as they do and thus don’t deserve this.
- The silent treatment.
- Telling other people to give me the silent treatment or not invite me to things.
- Blatant insults about things they know that I’m insecure about out of nowhere. “Ya, you started a business, but you’re also fat as shit. In case you forgot.”
Does this seem like a group of people that is overly concerned about my general well-being? Or one that is trying to make sure I’m not getting scammed?
Ah, my closest friends and family, I truly do love them. Because if a stranger or an acquaintance said these things to me, they’d be out of my life forever.
These Reactions Hurt
I won’t lie, hearing this type of stuff hurt pretty bad at the time.
When you have business success, the first thing you’ll want to do is tell your friends and family about it. Whether for support, because you’re excited about it, or simply to make small talk about what you’re working on day to day.
But after a while, you’ll see that talking about your business will trigger many people’s insecurities. You’ll find that you can’t even mention you have a business around certain people without causing a scene. And that feels awful. You now have to pretend a big part of your life doesn’t exist around some people. It hurts because these are people you used to talk about everything with.
Starting a business is such a big transition and a huge part of your life. If the people in your life can’t talk about it, it becomes incredibly isolating.
That realization also leaves you feeling a little hurt and betrayed. The people closest to you aren’t even pretending to be happy about your success. Instead, they may attempt to bring you down like we do to our celebrities who fall from grace.
These Reactions Can Last For a Long Time
I remember when the negative reactions first started happening to me. I told myself that people would sleep on it and realize how crazy they were acting in the morning.
That did not happen.
For most people, a few months to a few YEARS will have to pass before they come around. If you challenge people on how ridiculous they’re acting, they’ll only dig in. And once they’re dug in they may never come around.
If you want to maintain these people in your life. You have to try not to trigger them. Which means never talking about your business with them. Ever.
In the beginning, I wasn’t able to follow my own advice. I let emotion and my passion for my business get the best of me. I’d bring it up to friends and family members when I knew it caused an insecure reaction from them. I hoped that we could simply move past it.
But that’s not how this works. Pushing others to talk about this when they’re not ready only makes things worse. They won’t be moving past this anytime soon.
A few years will need to pass. Eventually, the situation won’t be as new or as scary for people. You still won’t be able to talk about your business in-depth with them. But the attacks will calm down. Some may even feel remorse or shame about their initial reaction.
Forgive Everyone, Be The Bigger Person
My first job ever was baling hay back in 1999 at 14 years old. I’ve been working shitty jobs ever since. Including stints at McDonald’s, pumping gas, and cleaning toilets.
So I was pretty taken aback when I first saw business success in 2016. My friends and family started insinuating that life had been handed to me on a silver platter. Wait, what? I felt like I was living in bizarro-world. I definitely worked to get here, I mean I literally used to clean up people’s shit for goodness sake.
However, in a weird way, these people have a point. Your life is on a trajectory that theirs is not. You are about to have the power to wake up and not go to a horrible job. You don’t answer to anybody. You’ve regained control of your time. That’s a level of power that few people ever achieve in this society.
I know it happened fast and you haven’t adjusted to life being this way. But, you have actual power now. People who used to be your peers or even authority figures in your life will see you as some sort of giant. The quicker you can acknowledge your new role, the less time you’ll spend in an awkward business teenager-like state.
Also, recognize that some of your friends and family feel trapped in their own lives. They can’t help but react when they see that you’ve created this amazing thing.
Why? Because for people who feel trapped, you’re a walking talking reminder that life doesn’t have to be that way. For some people acknowledging that hurts them more than you can understand. It may not be fair to you, but that’s their current level of emotional maturity. You have to accept that for what it is.
It took me too long to recognize that’s where this was coming from. When I stop and realize these attacks happen because this person feels trapped and powerless. My anger subsides and I feel empathy for the person. It’s hard to feel empathy the moment somebody tosses a horrible insult your way. But try to remind yourself of this when that happens.
Many people will insult you at first, and a few years later they’ll come back and ask you for help. You’ll regret it if you’re still focused on how this person wronged you when that happens. It took this person a lot of courage and personal growth to get to this point. Don’t perpetuate the cycle by throwing it back in their face.
You’ll Become Closer To Other Entrepreneurs
You’ll lose friends when you start a business, and it sucks. This happens because you go years never mentioning a huge part of your life to somebody. Slowly, you just start to feel less close to them. You may have a blow-up fight or two over your business, but that’s less common.
But it’s not all bad. You started a successful business! A business that’s going to give you much more than it takes away.
One of the ways it gives is that you have entered an exclusive club of other business owners!! Business owners have instant respect and admiration for other business owners. We need to come up with our equivalent of the “Jeep Wave.” because that’s sort-of what it’s like.
Sure, you lost a few friendships along the way (hopefully not too many). But, you’ve opened the doors to new relationships. Ones that will fit your life much better.
Find a Business Outlet
I don’t recommend you get a business partner. That’s a terrible idea.
But, I understand the appeal of having somebody to talk to about all this business stuff. Which is why I very much recommend you get out there and try to meet other business owners. In-person meetings would be great for you. Look for a local co-working space or meetups that are happening.
If that doesn’t exist near you, talking to people online is also a great option. You can find people who do similar things no matter how obscure your business. Look for Reddit or Facebook groups related to your business. And if these groups are not easy to find, create your own group! Others will find you.
You will need support during this transition. If your friends and family aren’t getting the job done, you should find another way to vent. Here are a few options that I like.
- Get a therapist. I’m a big advocate of therapy. I understand that it’s a very personal decision and you need to find a situation that fits you. But for me, it helps.
- Hire a business coach. They’ll happily talk about your business with you. A good business coach will actually help you grow the business as well. It could pay for itself.
- Find a mentor. Or multiple mentors. This is like having a coach only free.
- Find a mentee. These people are actually excited to know about your business and it’s fulfilling to help others.
- Leverage that one friend you had who wanted to talk about this stuff. They’ll be few and far between but they probably exist.
You need somebody in your life that will talk business with you without freaking out. This will help you out tremendously.
Phew. We got really deep in the weeds there. All I really wanted you to know was that this happens to everybody who starts a business. The end result is you may have to keep your business to yourself around friends and family. Be prepared for this and make sure you have some type of business outlet so that you don’t go insane.