Stemming from feminist and postcolonial theory, there exists a wealth of literature investigating the politics and ethics of knowledge production in contemporary research. This paper explicates how a methodological and conceptual focus on the uncomfortable emotions experienced by researchers and participants within fieldwork can initiate new conversations on the ethical tensions littering the ethnographic project. I candidly set out the shame, frustration, doubt, guilt, and hope that materialised as I, a white British middle-class male researcher, follow young educated un/underemployed Egyptians as they navigate a precarious labour market and chase globalised aspirations that are difficult to reach. In the paper I argue that by paying attention to the emotional load of the research process, I was able to better identify and explore the postcolonial relations of power enmeshed in my own and my participants' racialised bodies. In particular, I examine the difficulty of being both ‘western’ researcher and ‘western’ friend in Egypt through the lens of what Lauren Berlant (2011) has labelled a cruel attachment to illusive fantasies of the good life. I argue that embracing discomfort can provide an avenue to interrogate the structural power inequalities at play in ethnographic research, while still forging meaningful relationships within them.