Here’s How to Avoid Falling Victim to Your Own Success

September 19, 2017Diana Lengerson

Are you a victim of your own success?

“Success” can mean many different things. For our purposes, let’s merely stipulate that your definition of success is your own. If you feel successful, and the fact pattern of your life and career leads impartial observers to concur, you can call yourself a success.

Being a “victim of success” is a subjective matter as well. It’s a know-it-when-you-see-it situation: If you feel as though you’re being held back by behaviors or conditions arising directly or indirectly out of your personal success, and that you can exercise some agency over those behaviors or conditions, you can plausibly call yourself a victim of your own success.

Now, what to do about it?

Add a Healthy Dose of Humility

Once you’ve achieved a measure of prominence or even fame, it’s hard to put the genie back into the bottle. Why shouldn’t you act like you have all the answers? Your knowledge and talent got you this far — why not ride them as far as they’ll go?

Alas, you don’t know everything. You never will. Successful people who are actually good at being successful know not to get too big in the head.

…But Don’t Stop Believing in Yourself

Humility should by no means foreclose self-belief. Counterintuitively, many who achieve success (however defined) worry that they’ve “peaked” — that they can’t possibly serve up an encore as impressive or satisfying as the original act.

This is not a healthy way to approach business or life. The right prism through which to view your success is one of possibility: If you’re capable of achieving what you’ve thus far achieved, what aren’t you capable of?

Know Your Journey Doesn’t End Until the Music Stops

We all know that life is one big journey. And, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Even when your newfound (or recurrent) success has you feeling like you’ve reached your destination, you’re better off viewing your achievement as just another station on the long, continuous railroad of your life. Knock on wood, there are plenty more to come.

Remain Goal-Oriented

Don’t keep journeying for the sake of journeying. The stations on your railroad of life will come more frequently, and soar more grandly, when they’re the product of concrete targets you’ve set for yourself. Another way of saying this is, “Don’t rest on your laurels.” Keep setting up achievable goals — the better to knock them down.

Avoid “Expectation Inflation”

In one regard, lifestyle inflation is a good problem to have. Growing into a bigger spending budget means, well, that you have more money to spend. And, for your own psychological health, it’s important to take small rewards for a job well done.

Your personal success may or may not come with a bigger bank account. (Hopefully it does.) Even if your financial picture remains ever the same, your sense of what’s possible to achieve might not.

This sense may be justified in whole or in part. But don’t let it get out of control. The fact that more people know who you are doesn’t automatically make you a miracle worker. You’re still bound by the same constraints: finite resources, incomplete information, limited time. You can’t do everything. Remember, a dose of humility is in order.

Protect Your Time

Successful businesspeople are great at protecting their time. They don’t linger over meetings or allow unscheduled obligations to eat into their productive hours.

You may or may not be a successful businessperson in the traditional sense, but one thing is for sure: If you’re really successful, you’re going to have a lot of people knocking on your door. And you’re not going to be able to keep them all happy.

Books have been written about successful time-protection strategies, but the basic procedure is simple enough: Get an assistant, get a better organizational system, get on board with the almighty schedule, and learn to say “no.”

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