Toxic Friends Can Affect Productivity if You’re a Freelancer or Entrepreneur
Resisting the charm of a toxic friend might require putting them out of your life.
All of us at one time or another, has had a toxic friend. You may even have one right now, but the question is, do you know that they’re toxic? Better yet, could you ever resist the charm of a toxic friend, and be able to put them out of your life if it became necessary? In a minute I’ll discuss some basic characteristics of the typical toxic friend, like the fact that they can always get you to do stupid, embarrassing stuff that you end up regretting later on.
Under normal circumstances, having a toxic friend might simply amount to daily inconveniences or occasional embarrassment. But when you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur (especially just starting out), having a toxic friend could end up affecting your productivity. In some cases, it might even be completely bad for business; at least that’s how it was for me. I was in the business of writing, and my friend tried to minimize my accomplishments.
Signs of Toxicity
Recognizing toxic behavior is not always easy to do, at least not right away. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, but most toxic friends will appear as wolves in sheep’s clothing at the start of a friendship. Then again, you may luck out like I did, and end up with two toxic friends; one of each kind. For anonymity sake, I’ll just call them Janice and Tina.
I knew Janice was trouble from day one, though I wouldn’t have used the phrase toxic. On the other hand, Tina was the kind of toxic that you didn’t recognize until it was way too late to care, or to do anything about it. It’s not that her negative traits weren’t there all along, because they were. But sometimes we’re so busy being charmed by the toxic friend’s personality, that we fail to realize who they really are.
Allow me to clarify what I mean by my definition of toxic friends, since people have different views about what the expression means to them. As you read the following questions and form answers in your head, don’t focus on the specifics of the question. It doesn’t matter if it’s asking about going dancing or some other activity that you and your friends don’t even engage in. Just focus on the point of the question. Make sure you answer honestly, because if you don’t, you’re only fooling yourself.
- Do you know someone who is only your friend when you agree to do what they want?
- Who decides which fast food joint or restaurant to eat at after shopping or a sporting event?
- Who always chooses the dvd or latest movie release you go to check out on a Friday evening?
- Is the choice of club, bar or other Saturday night activity always left up to them?
The above questions are not a fair gauge for determining the levels of toxicity in your friends. But they can cause you to start giving some thought to the true nature of your friendships. The answers may not seem like a big deal, even if they simply show how selfish one or more of your friends happen to be. However, if you start asking yourself some other serious questions, along the same line of thought, you may be surprised at what you discover.
If you have a new startup business or idea, or you work in some kind of freelance capacity, you definitely need to be surrounded by genuine friends. Entrepreneurs and creative people who work for themselves have a constant inner struggle. We’re always worrying about self-imposed timetables, deadlines and other goal-related burdens that we tend to carry. It’s critical that we have sincere friends around who are understanding, supportive and most of all, encouraging. These additional questions are more serious and can reflect how your friends really feel about what you’re trying to achieve:
- Does my friend encourage me about my business plans and goals OR constantly put my ideas down?
- Does my friend respect my financial responsibilities and limitations due to my future plans and goals?
- Does my friend try to coerce, cajole or intimidate me into unnecessary spending?
- Does my friend respect my time and also recognize my need for rest, due to my current business related activities?
By looking at this new set of questions and thinking about the responses, you can see how the answers could have an adverse effect on whatever plans and business goals you have for your future. Since toxic people tend to be irresponsible themselves, they could care less about the responsibilities that you have. All it takes is one toxic friend to cause your life to get completely off course.
If I had to pick a trait to put at the top of the toxic people list, I’d have to go with selfishness. Toxic friends can pollute a situation because of this negative characteristic. A close runner up would be jealousy, because selfishness and jealousy often go hand-in-hand. If someone in your life displays these traits on a regular basis, they could prove to be a liability to your future dreams and business endeavors.
My dream to become a writer happened late in life when I went back to school after marriage, a kid, and a divorce ten years later. That’s where I met Tina, at community college, on the first day of our journalism class. The following week, we were assigned to do a story together and from that time on we became thick as thieves (until several years later when we parted ways),
I used to believe that Tina really wanted me to succeed in reaching my writing goals, just like I wanted the same for her. But though we started on our writing journeys together, she was never as serious as I was, and all too often I’d skip out of class early, miss an assignment, or not bother to go to class at all, just because Tina had something better (and usually more exciting) for us to do.
Though we were only a few years apart and basically at the same place in our lives, she didn’t take our classes serious, or anything else for that matter. For Tina, life was just one big party that she was always trying to drag me along to. And of course I went, just like any dutiful friend who is under the spell of a toxic person.
For some strange reason, many toxic friends can be awful darn charming. Every toxic person I knew (now that I can identify them) always seemed to have people flocking around them. Being attracted to toxic friends instead of true friends can be potentially dangerous. Toxic friends can poison your thinking because they usually have such an influential effect on people. That’s how my toxic friend Janice was (the troublemaker I mentioned earlier). I knew her in my younger years, as a teen and up into adulthood.
She was always clever, funny, and exciting to be around, just as long as you were lucky enough to be in her circle, and I was. But she was also mean, bossy, and vindictive, and not many friends stood up to her and remained friends for long. Yet she still had a way about her, a kind of killer charm. Janice gets the credit for many of the punishments I was put on for breaking various house rules as a teen. Her mean toxic spirit was also responsible for the one and only fight that I ever instigated in my life and I always felt bad about afterwards.
When friends display toxic behavior in your personal life, you might let it slide and start to give them a pass. Before you know it, you find yourself putting up with all sorts of crap, all in the name of friendship. But what happens when this kind of behavior begins to affect your work, your career, or even your educational goals and aspirations?
Toxic people are rarely known for saying encouraging words or motivating you to do productive activities. Instead, they’re usually the naysayers and the ones telling you to “forget about it” and making you feel like your ideas will “never work.” This goes back to their jealous and selfish nature. They don’t want you to succeed because they fear you’ll leave them behind.
I began to understand this about Tina the day I shared three chapters of a manuscript I had started writing. I would have been completely content with any kind of useful dialogue and sincere feedback from her. Instead she didn’t even mention anything about the manuscript until a couple of weeks later when I broke down and asked her opinion because I couldn’t stand waiting any longer.
Recognize the Truth
The day I recognized the truth about Tina was the day, I saw envy in her eyes because I was attempting to write a book. By then, we were out of school, but neither of us were working in our field of study. We partied on the weekends, and worked at jobs we didn’t care about. But I still had my dream, so I started writing without telling Tina, at least not until I had written the first three chapters. When she gave them back to me, she was unable to hide the envy in her eyes, and suddenly there was an awkwardness in the room, thick enough to cut with a knife.
I don’t know whether she just didn’t bother to read the entire manuscript, or she was so disappointed in what she read, that she didn’t have any words to express it. All I know is that she summed it up and dismissed my hard work with four simple words “It wasn’t raw enough.” She didn’t give any specifics or elaborate at all. She just moved on to another subject and left me feeling too self-conscious and embarrassed to ask anything further. I was hurt and I have no doubt that it showed. I didn’t call her for a couple of weeks and she didn’t bother to reach out to me, which led me to believe she knew how I felt.
Years later, when I look back at my life, I realize what a big influence both Janice and Tina had on my life. The kind of influence that can have a bad effect on your leadership capabilities. Just think about it. If you’re a new freelance worker or entrepreneur, you’re the boss, which means you need to know how to be a leader. You can’t afford to have negative influencers in your life who cause you to doubt yourself and your abilities. I know for a fact, if I had allowed myself to continue paling around with Tina and let her influence my motivation to write, I would have stopped writing a long time ago.
Keep one thing in mind if you happen to have a toxic friend in your life. Toxic friends like to keep things status quo because usually they’re the ones in charge. They don’t want you to do more or better, because then you’d probably be outshining them, and toxic people can’t have that. They love and need the spotlight.
So don’t be surprised if you decide to assert yourself in a toxic friendship and your friend starts to pull away. When you finally see the relationship for what it is, your toxic friend won’t be too happy to have things change, so the only thing they can do change, is to let the change be on their terms. They may not necessarily verbalize how they feel, but as far as toxic friends are concerned, they all have the same motto. “It’s my way or the highway!”
Does this philosophy sound familiar to you? Do you have friends like that? If you do, consider yourself lucky if they’re preparing to move on. That’s an indication that you may finally be outgrowing them. When you do, then maybe you can make room for a genuine friend who will support you and have your back.