When Your Family Doesn’t Root For Your Success
It sucks when family members don’t believe in you or support you. But sometimes their lack of support is exactly what pushes you forward.
My Dad was telling a story about my older sister, Alexis. When she was in high school she got hired by my Dad’s company to dress as their Chipmunk mascot for a day and hand out chips. It was a hot and humid Jersey day and Alexis had horrible asthma. Every 20 minutes, Dad took off the head of the costume to see her sweating and panting and unable to breathe. He laughed remembering the story and said, “Ask Alexis, she’ll tell you.”
So I did. Alexis was looking at her phone and her eyes darted quickly towards me.
Then in her most annoyed tone, “Charlie, you were there.”
“I was? Oh. I don’t remember.”
Alexis kept her head down but I could see the eye roll. She couldn’t even be bothered to look at me. “You handed out chips with me. How do you not remember?”
Her annoyance and accusatory tone was confusing. Why was it such a big deal for me to not remember that day? She was the one in the claustrophobic costume with acute asthma. I was probably bored and not getting paid for tagging along. It made sense that it was such a vivid memory for her. It equally made sense that it was not a blip on my radar. Even Dad didn’t remember I was there.
Hours later I realized Alexis wasn’t mad at me for forgetting that day. She was mad about something else.
Nearly 10 years ago when I was writing a personal blog under my real name, I wrote about a memory that involved my sister. I told the story of discovering weed in my Dad’s underwear drawer and running to the top of the stairs to yell down to Alexis and tell her.
When Alexis found out about the story I shared publicly she was livid. That was NOT how it went. It was she who found the weed and yelled down to me. As soon as she said it I could picture it happening that way. It was weird. I could imagine the story both ways. And because I could imagine it the other way, I admitted, “Maybe that was the way it happened.”
Later, after things cooled off, my sister said something I would never forget.
She said, “My biggest fear is that someday you’re going to write a book, and you’re going to write things about me that aren’t true.”
Of all the things she could have said, I never expected that. I was bewildered. The thought of writing a book had never crossed my mind. I wasn’t a writer. I was focused on becoming an actor. The blog was just something I did for fun. Writing a book sounded completely ridiculous.
After my initial stunned response, I couldn’t get over the fact that she described me writing a book as her biggest fear. That’s your biggest fear?? Me writing a book?!
For a long time I didn’t trust myself to tell my own stories because I had Alexis in my head telling me I was a liar with a terrible memory. It’s true, I do have a terrible memory. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still tell my stories with as much authenticity and truth as someone with an impeccable memory. There was nothing untrue about the story I told about me and my sister. We were in high school, home alone, and found weed in my Dad’s drawer. That’s the story.
Since then I realized my sister is not rooting for me. It even feels like she’s rooting against me.
“If you write, don't be overly offended or demoralized if your friends don't read it because my friends and especially my family are the last people who will ever read my stuff.”
Steven Pressfield, who couldn’t even get his own mother to read one of his novels, agrees:
“The people who are close to you - when you write something or take a chance - they sense you changing. You're becoming a different person and their fear is they're going to lose you. And so they want to make you stay the way you are. In a crazy way, it's love. It's out of love. But it's a dark side of love.”
I wish I agreed with this sentiment. It’s not that I think my sister doesn’t love me, but I don’t think she cares whether I change or not. I think she simply resents my success, ambition, or happiness.
It’s nice to be supported by the people in our life but anything worth doing cannot be done because we want validation from others, even though it feels good. There has to be a deeper driving force, one that comes from within.
Maybe it’s a blessing, then, to feel unsupported by family or friends. Because if we still want to do the thing anyway, it means we’re not only doing it because we want to do it but because we have an innate need to do it.
My sister knows I’m writing under a pseudonym now. She doesn’t ask me about writing and I don’t offer anything. But she knows. So when I asked her about a memory that we apparently shared, that didn't sit well with her. Because if I don’t remember something that did happen, does that also mean I remember things that didn’t happen? Will I just write a book of lies? And will I write untrue things about her, specifically?
Regardless of the questions swirling around in her head, and regardless of her support, Alexis was the first person to plant the seed of writing a book. And that’s just what I plan to do.