Raining on someone else’s parade

There is a joke that Mexicans tell about themselves:

An American businessman is on holiday in Mexico and, as he is walking along the beach, he passes a Mexican fisherman with his catch of crabs in an open bucket.

“You should put a lid on that,” says the American, “or the crabs will climb out.”

“Not a problem,” replies the fisherman, “they are Mexican crabs. If one tries to climb up, the others will pull him back down.”

I guess Mexicans must see this as a national trait. (Or some Mexicans do, at least.) Pulling people back by refusing to support and encourage their achievements.

It implies everyone should ‘know their place’ and accept it. As if wanting to make something of yourself is arrogant, and that lowering your ambition is therefore to be applauded.

It is a very negative habit, but quite widespread – not just in Mexico. I think we can all be guilty of this. For me, it’s a bit of a family trait. Myself and my brothers too often mistake signs of success as ‘showing off’ and our father had taught us to dislike showing off and to avoid show-offs.

If we were honest, we would admit it is about insecurity on our own part. We find it difficult to see other people succeed, because it makes us feel ‘less’ in some small way.

“Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little piece of me dies.”

Gore Vidal (note: there are slightly different variations of this quote, but this is the one I prefer.)

Well, if you find it painful when a friend (or brother) succeeds, then pull them back down.

We tell ourselves that we don’t want people getting ‘above themselves’, we are keeping their feet on the ground, keeping them grounded, and ensuring against arrogance, making sure they don’t get ‘too big for their boots’, as if we were doing them a favour – when really it is about making ourselves feel better. We are envious, and as a result, we try to bring them back down to our level – so that it doesn’t hurt so much! We make it about ourselves, when it’s not about us, it’s about them – and we should let them have their moment.

I guess, at its heart, it is about low levels of confidence in our own life choices and our own achievements. And psychologically, it is not very healthy for either party. You make the friend feel guilty in some way, when there is no cause for guilt, but you don’t do yourself any favours, either.

It actually makes us feel worse. We are trying to pretend nothing has changed, when it has. So we are not being honest with ourselves.

Much healthier, in fact, if we can accept their success and celebrate it – join them in enjoying the moment. They will appreciate the gesture and you will not have to lie to yourself. If we encourage and support their achievement, maybe we can enjoy it vicariously.

We would want them to support us in achieving our goals, so ‘do unto others …’

That is not always easy, of course.

The start point is to stop comparing ourselves to others and to focus on our own goals and ambitions. The more comfortable we are with our own choices, the easier it becomes to look at other people’s achievements objectively. 

I am still learning, but now, when I feel tempted to sour someone else’s good news, I stop myself and make a conscious effort to be more positive and supporting. Painful though that is …

– end –


Published by Peter Runkel. Reluctant business consultant. Lives life in PowerPoint.

Published by Peter Runkel

"Work hard and be nice to people." Anthony Burrill

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