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The Seductive Success Equation

How would you feel if you suffered a substantial career loss – either from a pandemic or for any other reason beyond your control?

Could you handle being on the short end of a business downturn, and having your senior or executive position be one of the key roles eliminated through no fault of your own?

Would you feel good about yourself if you were a woman who once held her own career aspirations but put them aside to help build your husband’s startup venture to a superpower – only to watch him become distant then leave you for another woman?

How would you cope if you discovered your daughter was doing drugs or cutting herself, and when you tried to speak with her about her feelings she rejected you saying “Now you want to talk? Where were you when I needed you?”

What would your answer be in each of these situations?

These are some of the prices people pay as they look to the promised payoff of their career efforts, yet watch it slip away.

My consulting and counseling practice brings women and men through the door who struggle with a concept that is at the core of our technically advanced Western Culture:

A silent assumption that can be likened to addiction - to something we need more and more of before we realize what in our life suffers from neglect because of it.

What is that “something?”

The need for higher and higher levels of a substance occurs with heroin, cocaine, alcohol, sleeping pills…..but just as surely with levels of success, riches…and fame.

The greatest illustration of this phenomenon of reaching tolerance can be seen in our cultural heroes and heroines – whether famous business titan, travel writer, or fashion designer. People whose fame and fortune took them to the iconic covers of The Wall Street Journal, Vogue or Life, Forbes or Wired, The Economist, or The New Yorker Magazines.

That fame didn’t spare them from the ultimate price they paid for measuring themselves exclusively by the standards of our culture, the market, the status of their distinct industry, or, sadly, a significant other.

SUICIDE - whether an attempt or final conclusion – may be the price paid.

Whether because of an illness, rejection, business loss, forced retirement, or some other factor out of their control, they experienced a severe depression.

But, why?

Why does someone, who appears to have it all, lose it all from an unexpected downturn or event gone sideways?

An event that may have resulted in their being temporarily less productive for a bit of time, or feeling temporarily unhappy or lost, yet unexplainably triggers a final conviction that they’re “no good” and leads to the decision to end it all?

Or, as happens inevitably at mid-career, or later, coming face-to-face with the question:

What am I doing it for? Why am I killing myself this way? What’s the point of it all? What’s my life about anyway?

As a well-educated professional, you, like them, have done it right.

You strove for scholastic achievement, high accomplishment, and the hope for future rewards throughout your life. After years in grad school or getting your MBA, you, too, set higher and higher goals and expectations for yourselves. You Leaned-In in all the right places.

You put success above family. You found the results of your efforts on the job made you feel tremendous. Every pat on the back, bonus, pay increase, and stock incentive at every performance review made you feel “extra special” and ”more desirable.”

You even gave yourself a little silent self-congratulation when you beat out a fellow employee to the pay raise with the thought “S/he’s good…but I’m just a little better.”

And now, each time a project bears fruit and the company realizes financial increase because of your efforts, you hear yourself say “I did that. I produced. I’m going to please my boss. I’m good enough.”

In the process, your enduring devotion to your work has become ever more seductive, pushing you to ever-higher levels of effort, convincing you that with every extra effort you’ll gain even more rewards…and the ultimate prize. RESPECT.

You suddenly find yourself working harder and harder to win. And when you win, you may even have the subliminal realization that you like yourself better because of your success.

But what’s the true result?

You’ve become motivated to produce. Like a rat on the Behavioral Scientist’s wheel or Pavlov’s dog, you’ve become excessively driven to produce.

The disadvantages of this philosophy of achievement mostly elude you as you become more and more preoccupied with your career success, even shutting off other areas of enjoyment or interests you once had in order to work long days and nights to achieve and produce.

Then what is the downside of this climb up the ladder? What can be wrong with that?

In the middle of the night, you may wake-up and even realize that the long hours outweigh the benefits of the lifestyle.

Yet somewhere deep inside your belief is alive and well.

Even if you have no conscious recognition of it, you may have a deeply rooted belief that gaining respect and happiness can only come through success.

But does it? Is it true?

If that were true, then why are so many common, non-achievers, and by all definition, “average” Americans never-the-less loved and happy with their lives?

And what about the fact that depression strikes even the most successful, rich, high-achievers you admire, emulate or aspire to be?

The answer is really quite simple, though it may still escape you as you read this.

In spite of everything said here, you may still be convinced that your true happiness and respect from your peers comes primarily through your achievements.

You may disbelieve.

If so, I encourage you to ask yourself:

Would you still respect and love yourself if you experienced a substantial loss or failure?

Even if these unfortunate events don’t happen to you, you may have one great disadvantage that you aren’t aware of.

If you don’t have the answer, it might be worth exploring what that is.

Give me a call.


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