For The Highest Achievers, Self-Destruction Is Never far Away
Since establishing TOP Performance Consulting, I have been contacted by an increasing number of people attracted by the notion that they can develop the ability to thrive on pressure (TOP!). This, together with my work with some very successful individuals over the past few weeks, has reminded me how people who get to the top of their profession are not always prepared for the challenges coming their way.
And I’m not just referring to the obvious ones thrown up by the environment. As daunting as the prospect of being visible and exposed may seem, along with the responsibility to be a role model and the pressure of knowing there is a chasing pack hot on their heels, these are not always the biggest challenges that these high achievers encounter.
More threatening are the less anticipated and more cunning menaces that lurk in the crevices and corners of their minds waiting to pounce on any opportunity to infiltrate and spread. These are the germs of stinking thinking, that all pervasive state of mind that can derail even people who reach the top at times.
There are various forms of stinking thinking but I have found two to be consistent topics of conversation with high achievers who have approached me to help them come to terms with their success. I’ll call them “How did I get here?” and “Where to from here?” thinking.
“How did I get here?” thinking often creeps in when high achievers have time to reflect on where they’ve got to and how they’re doing in terms of meeting others’ expectations. When the pressure is particularly intense, some people have told me they’re “waiting to be found out”, neglecting their many strengths and focusing instead on their perceived limitations.
“Where to from here?” thinking is associated with the achievement of a goal that has kept people motivated day-in-day-out for a long time. Winning a Gold Medal or being appointed to a CEO position are obvious examples of achievements that are difficult to surpass. Motivating themselves to identify the next long-term goal can be difficult, particularly for high achievers who reach their dream early in their careers.
For the many of us who do not reach these highest pinnacles of success, it is probably hard to understand that the highest achievers may think in this way. But they are human beings with all the same frailties and vulnerabilities that you and I possess.
So what’s the lesson? I believe it’s very simple. We hear lots of stories from high achievers about how they have overcome adversity and come back from failure. For me, the dangers lie not in failure but in success. For the highest achievers, self-destruction is never far away and learning how to deal with success is the key to sustained high performance.