Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Perils of Success

There is a particular reason why I've chosen to write what follows. I'm petrified but also excited about the possibility of my achieving something I've longed to do. Petrified for fear of what it may lead to if I'm successful and excited because of that longing to achieve. Of course all my efforts may come to nothing too.

It probably sounds bizarre to many but I fear success because I fear being put on a pedestal; for others to have too high an expectation of me. It stems from people in my past expecting me to have a magic wand to cure their ills or to carry them to a brighter future. Quite simply I can not do that. No one can.

If we look at the world of celebrity as an example of what can happen, one of the first things that occurs to me is how many get into difficulties due to the expectations of their followers and fans. People latch on to them because they want the recipe for success.

The celebrity has become famous for something they have done or do, but it is only one element; one facet of their being. Many end up having breakdowns, turning to drugs, alcohol or with maladaptive behavioural problems because relationships can get seen as things to avoid instead of embrace. They start thinking of others only wanting contact with them to help with finances, help them with their career etc with nothing in return.

While I would like acknowledgement for some task I've performed well, I never want to be worshipped for it.

Expectations can soon turn to demands of "MORE MORE MORE" which can lead to pressure, stress and burnout if the person feels they need their own 'me time'. Just because a singer comes up with one great song, does it follow that they MUST always do as well with others?

When we think of the world of business the same scenario can emerge. In essence the successful person has to feel at ease with what they are doing and strike a balance between the source of success and their sources of stability which include relationships, hobbies and all things that are separate from that one talent, skill, or aptitude that has given rise to that success. People need to rest from their good works and need to ensure there is that balance.

It can be a very fuzzy fine line between dedication and obsession, between welcome adulation and disturbing and distressing demands imposed on by ourselves or by others. Without a balance there is a risk of people crashing or plummeting; of abandonment of the the very things that in the beginning made them happy and made them successful. It isn't something that is unique to the world of the famous either; doctors, managers, scientists, engineers; people from all walks of life can be susceptible to this pitfall.

How often have we seen the media berate a person for their work or behaviour deteriorating when the demands of the public and the media have not been continually met or satisfied? They root for them on the way up but are often scathing and feel betrayed if they ever disappoint. It's not a fair or nice thing to do to anyone. So yes, I fear excesses of success.

My solution
I am human, and therefore will err, will disappoint, will say 'enough, no more', will do things which are good for me and walk away from anything that I am uncomfortable with or find potentially harmful. Most of all I will reject ever being hoisted onto a pedestal as I see it as one of the loneliest places to be placed. I refuse to go there, but will continue to do what gives me pleasure for as long as it does so; welcome acknowledgement if it pleases others but never let it control or govern my life. We all have a choice in how much or how little we push ourselves or let others do so. We have a choice in how we respond to that too.

In a conversation this week I explained that if ever I was asked for my autograph I'd be tempted to say "what's wrong with yours?" We all have the potential for success, but it's wise to temper it with our most basic needs as human beings and never let go of that.

Sorry if this posting is a bit cryptic in places but I have decided not to reveal my personal dilemma yet because I'm simply not ready to in any detail.


  1. This hits a nerve ... one of the reasons I think I've hesitated so much over creating things. I've feared success more than I've ever feared failure.

  2. It's a more common feeling than people realize. Especially when we see our lives in terms of a succession of non-achievements or failures. We get used to that and that's when the comfort of the familiar can really not help.

    I'm trying to be brave, excited and positive about my potential these days but boy is it hard work keeping that 'yeah but what if' doubt ridden worry button off.


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