Why People Want To See You Fail

We’ve seen them in all our news feeds at one point or another - the inspirational quotes against stolen stock backgrounds, wanderlust pictures of backpacking across Europe, or perhaps memes showcasing the #wokeness in your social circles. You know exactly what I’m talking about, yet you’d expect these very same people to be encouraging towards you and that they would want to see you succeed.

Contrary to your comforting beliefs, they each secretly wait for your darkest hours to arrive and sneer at your misfortunes. Sure, they may feel guilty or even deep down hate themselves for it, but the case is clear - they'd rather see you fail.

It's not entirely their fault - But it does open your mind to some inconvenient truths about people.

If everyone was raised to believe that a sole 9-5 job and a college education were all you needed to unlock the gates to a happy, fulfilling life, then anything outside of this “norm” would seem bizarre and counter productive to them. While digging deeper into this phenomenon, I uncovered something even more bizarre - Our society glorifies each of the Elon Musks and Steve Jobs of this world, yet we hardly offer any form of support for an entrepreneurial friend, emotionally or financially, as they begin their journey.

I've spent more than a few late nights in drunk meditation, or chatting with like-minded friends, and even analyzing this topic in the professional sense, as a marketer and a psychotherapist intern. Through my colorful experiences in tech and studies of cognitive distortions, here are my revelations.

There are 3 types of people who want to see you fail.

1. Your Immediate Circle, aka Family and Friends

Your parents want to tell you that your business idea isn't worthy. They look forward to wipe your tears and soothe your woes before you stray away from what they believe is a better choice, working for someone else. It's hard to blame them when they've been managing your risk since your birth.

I remember a conversation I had with my parents just a few short months ago. I was pitching the idea for my psychology book summary service, Psych Nest, with hopeful intentions. My parents laughed at me and so did my co-workers. They all told me some version of the same thing: to focus on my job and that I should be thankful for a 9-5. It stung. I then tried to find comfort in sharing the idea with my friends, yet found the familiar lack of confidence projected onto me.

Friends will feel a (perhaps unhealthy) sense of comfort knowing they can secretly continue comparing themselves to you. They are able to preserve some self esteem knowing someone is as miserable as them, or stuck in the same league, rather than elevating their own station in life and improving against themselves. Trying for them means putting the bag of hot Cheetos down and cancelling Netflix. Unfortunately, this is too hard for most people.

People would generally opt for the path of least resistance instead of forcing themselves to get uncomfortable. Science has a name for the physiological aspects of this - homeostasis. I choose to call it bad mindset and bad habits.

2. People You Don't Know

These people are usually found at the end of Facebook and reddit comments. These are the infamous haters known as trolls, who willingly give their attention and energy away when it could be focused on a million other things.

In some unique situations, you can build your entire career off negative people, by either pitting your fanbase against them, or even leading them. Let’s briefly consider the rise to fame of Kanye West and President Donald Trump. If we dissect their strategies objectively, each of them offers up an example on how leveraging the hate, frustration, and fear of people can be a highly effective catapult towards success and publicity.

3. Other Entrepreneurs

Yes, other entrepreneurs will want to see you fail too, but not in the way you may expect. Let’s call it “failing with enthusiasm.” Unless they’re a bitter competitor with a scarcity complex, they’ll want you to come away with a lesson from your failure. Something that can be used to tackle the next obstacle.

Late one night when we were venting, Justin Ponce, Founder of FissionBlue once confessed to me:

“When I first got into web design and hosting, I felt like a fraud. I was intimidated by competitors and even a bit jealous at times. Fast forward a couple years, and a few of the same exact competitors not only have given crucial advice and mentoring, but have actually bought services from me. Maybe our perceived threats are just reflections of our own insecurities, especially for a pie as big as web design.”

It's been said that we do not learn from our successes but from our mistakes. It’s possible your idea for the “next big thing” may actually be terrible. But assuming you master execution to the point where you can sell rocks as pets, you may realize your idea is less than 1% of the equation. On a side note: The pet rock idea was real and made a million dollars. You can learn more about that story here.

You may feel sad, guilty, and resentful if you’re surrounded by people who want to see you fail.

You may internalize some of it and begin unhealthy thoughts, i.e. you'll never succeed, you can’t trust anyone, you’re meant to stay at your station of life. But don't worry, because it's part of the process.

Once you understand someone's position, you'll let go of focusing your emotions on solving them and instead discover ways to solve your business.

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