Lonely at the top

Lonely at the top
Photo by Cristina Gottardi / Unsplash

People get excited by people with high energy and big ambition. They gather around you wanting a hit of “whatever it is you’re on”. And you’re high on work—and working towards your dreams.

I think there are 3 kinds of people who you will encounter in your journey to greatness (whatever that means for you).

  1. the ones that are so jealous of you that they will ignore you and your work,
  2. the ones that will want to feed off your energy and catch a glimpse of ambition,
  3. your true friends who’ll help you and support you in times good and bad.

Today, I want to speak about the second group.

You can listen to this article as a podcast episode too 🎧

In my first year of Uni, I was very mission-driven. A student of geospatial engineering, who in retrospect, wanted to make it more user-centric. The majority of my projects had that as their main goal.

I wrote articles, scientific papers, projects, and conference applications. I’ve won grants, awards, and scholarships.

And I’ve had an initial group of friends who’d follow me around, help in project delivery I enjoyed being a part of something greater than simply being a student.

Until it became too much. Until my greatness and ambition outgrew both their comfort zone and minds. By that point - we were pretty good friends, or at least I thought so. Wanting to share my joy about receiving an award, and getting a long-paused, loud-swallow type of response with an insincere “congratulations” should have been my first clue. But it wasn’t, because I always tend to see the good in people.

And as I continued to make my way through ideas that’d make life on Earth more enjoyable, they started drifting away. Helping less. Calling less. Coming up to chat in the hallway less. Being in my life less.

It’s been almost 5 years, and now we’re almost like perfect strangers. I’ve tried to (naively) make contact throughout the years but was never made welcome to talk freely and openly about what’s going on in my life—because, for them, it made them feel less than.

I was sad that this was happening because the only thing I ever did and wanted to do was lift others up. I’ve felt like I personally failed in doing so. It took me a while to unset that expectation for myself.

Spring of last year, when my entire world seemed to be falling apart, for a reason I can’t quite remember, I was chatting to one of those old friends and I have shared how I feel—that I was having a tough time. Their comment was something along the lines of: “See, it wasn’t necessary to try to prove yourself all the time”.

To whom? I was solely following my heart’s desires and enjoying myself every step of the way.

That sentence felt like they were waiting for the day things will start going south for me. Like they were relieved by my ‘failure’. It seemed that, even though they never had the same aspirations like I did, they still wish they did. So when my plans failed, they felt better about themselves.

That was the day I learned:

You can only lift others up to how high they want to go.