You’ve taken a leap out on a limb, a new career path, lifestyle, or venture. Maybe it’s a step-down from what you’d hoped you would be doing. You’re dealing with a new challenge at home, a new health issue, unemployment, a breakup. Maybe it was a leap forced by circumstances. Whatever the impetus, you’re committed to it. You’ve pledged to adjust and now you’re entering the unknown: “Can I make this work?”
Eventually it will probably maybe be fine. Someday maybe you’ll look back contented or downright glad you went out on this limb. But between declaring commitment and ultimate success there’s the period when you’re pouring in effort and there’s little or no evidence that you will achieve success. How do you sustain yourself through it? Yes, high resolve can help but there’s something simple that will make resolve easier to maintain.
The company we keep makes a huge difference in how we feel about our leap into the unknown. Four kinds of people make a difference–not all affirming, it’s worth monitoring and managing how much time you spend with each:
Perpendicular people: People who are on a path different from your new one, for example, former lifestyle allies, couples that you and your ex- used to hang out, employees at the firm you just left to start your venture, the employed if you’re now unemployed. Perpendicular people may be a challenge to your resolve. When you tell them what you’re up to they may respond with surprise, disdain, challenges, questions about whether you’re sure you’re doing the right thing. Or maybe they’ll have no response because can’t relate. Some may cheer you on, and say they wish you the best or even that they wish they could do what your doing. Some may see your divergent path as a threat and get defensive. Watch how you feel when you come away from interaction with perpendicular people and to the extent possible limit time with them if they erode resolve.
Parallel people: People who are moving on a path like yours are your allies in maintaining high resolve. We’re social creatures. Romantic notions about the maverick aside, doing something that no one else is doing feels weird, alienating and unhealthy. Mavericks tend to run in packs even if they’re small packs. To the extent possible make sure you get regular contact with people on a path like yours. It’s amazing what a difference it can make. The more you end up spending time with perpendicular people the more you may need to antidote with parallel people. And even just a little bit helps. Even if you can only find one person on a path like yours, even if the only parallel is that you’re on different paths from the people around you, a little time together can be extremely affirming.
Among parallel people, also pay attention to your mix of:
People ahead of you: Some will be further along, having success you aspire to. Time with these people can be encouraging or discouraging depending on your attitudes about each other. They might show you up or gloat about their superiority. You might take their advanced skills as evidence that you don’t have what it takes. Or you might feel inspired or goaded to continue making progress. These people can be motivating company. The better you get at not being the best, the better you get to be. Still, if you find that their progress is discouraging, you may be best backing them off a little in the mix of company you keep.
People behind you: Others aren’t as far along as you are. Time with these people can be affirming and encouraging evidence that you’re making progress, which can spur you on. With them you may get a rare taste of confidence that can give you a preview experience of your future prowess. For example, if you’re new venture is a sport, playing with someone who is not as good as you can make you play better. The better you get at being the best, the better you get to be. There’s a risk too however that the company of the less advanced will make you complacent and overly-satisfied with your progress, so it’s worth monitoring how much time you spend with them too.
People say “don’t compare yourself to others” and even “don’t compete,” and yet I’ve never met anyone who didn’t do both, especially when they’re out on a limb. It’s easier not to compete when you’re settled in a satisfying comfort zone. When you’re trying to build a new comfort zone, it’s more important to manage your comparisons and competitions.
Within the limits of your power to pick the company you keep, you have the power to make your transition feel easier. Minimize the company that erodes your resolve, maximize the company that affirms it. Mark your progress against others, using the more advanced as inspiration and the less advanced as affirming evidence that you’re making progress.