An odd bit of something none of us quite expected when we went pro was the lack of support from people in our peer groups. This isn’t a universal problem, but it is a shocking one when you come up from fandom. Fandom can be a source of unreasoning support when you are of the body, but will dole out hideous heaps of abuse when you turn pro.
When I went from fan to pro while still in high school, kids my own age in the science fiction group I belonged to were incredibly cool to me. I will never forget their kindness and support. I can’t think of one in the group who wasn’t a mensch.
Older fans in their 30’s and 40’s: not so much. My pro ambitions must have galled them no end. Few of them went on to realize their own dreams and aspirations. They could be cruel. Bullying is not too strong a word for their behavior. One flatly stated, “We didn’t think you were going anywhere. We just thought you were going to be a little fan artist.” They seemed to hope so.
Another, author Bud Webster (who was always unfailingly kind), was a little more revealing. He said, “You were the kind of person we were trying to get away from.” I was too mundane in appearance and temperament for the SF fandom set, yet I was the one who went on to have the career I hoped for. This was extremely irritating to many. The bullying, which at the time seemed horrible, I now realize was a manifestation of the social dynamics of insecure people. And it’s not something unique to fandom.
This kind of “putting you in your place” is a form of leveling. When you are in a social group or relationship, and ANYONE moves or grows, or stretches the boundaries of that social dynamic, there will ALWAYS be a resistance to that change. ANY change, and the better that change is, the harder the resistance because a group dynamic mood will drop faster than it will rise.
Good friends who are secure in themselves will NOT resist this change, they will be happy to let you grow in the direction you wish to grow.
Fandom comes with a unique set of problems forged from the twin terrors of a tendency toward hero worship while simultaneously deploring the mundane trappings of status and success.
If you enter a fan group as a pro, fine. You are always a pro. If you enter a fan group as a fan and then emerge a pro, there are those who will hate you with the fiery hate of a thousand suns. These foul weather friends are 1,000 times worse than fair weather friends.
Fair weather friends ditch as soon as you are not a sparkling diamond. OK, I get it, my stock dropped, you want to be with the cool kids. Bye!
But foul weather friends? The worst! Because fair weather friends will merely leave you behind, and foul weather friends will hamstring you to force you to stay behind.
Wherever your misery level was, that’s where they want to keep you. It gives them a sense of power to be the emotionally strong party in a relationship. As soon as your mountaintop basks in sun, they will call for rain and they will revel in the mudslide.
There are a lot of people in and around the art and entertainment field who use their careers to prop up their lousy self esteem. That is understandable. When they see someone in their social circle achieving what they have not yet achieved or can’t achieve, or would prefer to achieve in their own unique way (which requires the exclusion of the success of everyone else they know) then they will do everything in their power to destroy your happiness. They may not even do it consciously. They can’t help themselves.
And you are NOT doing yourself or them any favors at all by sticking around.
When you try to reason with them, or assuage their feelings, you are enabling them. You are feeding their delusion that they have been harmed by your success or accomplishment. Your accomplishments have nothing to do with them.
Repeat after me:
Their envy is a sign of your success.
If they can’t be happy for you, they are not the kind of friends you want.
Emotional blackmail and sabotage are not the acts of friends.
Sometimes your kindest act of friendship is walking away and letting go.
If things turn toxic, leave. The longer you stay, the more poisonous it will get.
And if it makes them feel so horrible that you are doing well, then leaving their sight is doing them a favor.
If they ever come around and learn to appreciate the new life you have made for yourself, then you may welcome them back. But subjecting yourself to emotional abuse is not an act of compassion either toward them or toward you.
“I’m sorry you feel that way. Goodbye.”
There, wasn’t that simple?
(Another bit of ruminatin’, written for me pal Danny Donovan. Part I was here. Modified for clarity from my original note to Danny.)