Dear Mrs. Riches:
I have a career in a high-profile industry in which looks and status symbols are, rightly or wrongly, very important. Others have told me I am on the "fast track," and I feel confident about my prospects to significantly upgrade my income and position. To do that, I have to cultivate a certain lifestyle and entertain select people.
The trouble is that I have a very close-knit family and old friends who all come from a much more modest background. They like to come by my place regularly, drop in, and hang out. I love them, of course, and I'm not ashamed of them, but I can see this becoming more and more problematic as I entertain the industry insiders who will help me get ahead.
I plan to share whatever success I have with family and friends, and so it's not a question of shutting them out or leaving them behind. I just need some time and space to advance my career. Is there a way to create some new terms without appearing as though I'm ditching them when the going gets good?
-- On the Way Up
Dear On the Way Up:
Why not rent a storage facility and house your family and old friends in it until you're sufficiently successful? It will be an inexpensive means to get them out of the way while you go about schmoozing the people you hope will get you ahead. Of course, you'd want to make sure it's an air-conditioned unit, since you have such fond feelings toward them.
Think I am being overly harsh? Think again. You've said you're not ashamed of your friends and family, yet you bring up their modest backgrounds. You want to ditch them but avoid the appearance of having done so. And you want me to sanction it by saying that the ends justify the means. Someday in your successful future, you'll share your bounteous riches and your large-screened TV, and all will be hunky-dory. Right?
Except that in the meantime, these sentient beings who are your loved ones may actually discern that your behavior has changed, that your house is no longer the welcoming place it once was, and that you are suddenly wearing fancy clothes and mingling with uppity people. Real people with real feelings appreciate loyalty and dislike being looked down upon. So when you come back around to wanting their company, your friends and family may well have moved on.
You may also want to think about what will happen if your star doesn't soar as high in the sky as you anticipate. Say, for kicks, that your career suffers a setback and those hoity-toity industry folks decide that you are below their standards. You can't blame the kettle, right, Pot? I would expect that you'd want to turn to the people who helped you get where you are today, the people who liked you when cut your own bangs too short and who remember you when you performed "You Light Up My Life" for the grade-school talent show. It was terrible, but they loved you anyway.
Lest you think I am totally unsympathetic, let me concede this: Almost all of us have had moments when the behavior of a friend or family member has made us wince. It's just that the incidents cluster around the junior-high years, when we're narcissistic and sure that the new axis of the earth is right there in our shoes. Growing beyond that attitude is one of the great gifts of advanced age.
So if you want to move up in your career, find better ways to do it -- ways that don't require you to sell your family, or yourself, short. You may find that it's as simple as saying to your family, "I have to have a work-related meeting/party/get-together at my house on Wednesday, but come by on Thursday, and I'll give you the play-by-play." Draw a boundary in such a way that is respectful and is based more on an effort to be professional, rather than whether Aunt Brunhilde snorts when she laughs. Loyalty -- both personally and professionally -- is an invaluable asset, both on the way up and on the way down.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .