BEWARE THREE TRAPS
This is a chapter about failure. But not just any kind of failure. It’s about the calamitous fall from grace that high performers can experience when they get so good that they forgot what made them successful.
- When high performers fall from grace, the most frequent culprits (aside from failing to practice the habits you’ve learned in this book) came down to three things.
- When high performers rose back up, the habits in this book were the vehicle for that ascension.
- When high performers describe such an up-and-down journey, they clearly never want to make the same mistakes again. The fall was that painful. When you fail at the beginning of journey, it’s frustrating. When you fail hard after making it for so many years, it feels immeasurably worse.
So what were the three things that caused high performers to fall out of prolonged success? Let’s start with what didn’t cause them to fail:
- Fear was not the issue.
- Competence was not an issue.
- Other people were not the issue.
- Creativity was not the issue.
- Motivation was not the issue.
- Resources were not the issue.
These issues could certainly be fair and understandable reasons for people to fail. But what I’ve learned from high performers is that these just aren’t the real failure points of sustained performance. The real traps are internal – negative patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that slowly kill our humanity, zest, and well-being. The traps are superiority, dissatisfaction, and neglect.
Trap #1: Superiority
High performers face a unique set of character traps because they are, by definition, outperforming so many around them. When you are succeeding beyond others, it’s easy to get a big head. You can begin to think you’re special, separate from, better than, or more important than other people. … This is a way of thinking that you must avoid at all costs.
Here’s how to know when superiority has infiltrated you mind:
- You think you are better than another person or group.
- You’re so amazingly good at what you do that you don’t feel you need feedback, guidance, diverse viewpoints, or support.
- You feel that you automatically deserve people’s admiration or compliance because of who you are, what position you hold, or what you’ve accomplished.
- You feel that people don’t understand you, so all those fights and failures are surely not your fault – it’s that “they” just can’t appreciate your situation or the demands, obligations, or opportunities you have to sort through daily.
When any of these realities is a constant in your life, you’ve begun the decline, even if you don’t know it yet. What these thoughts have in common is a sense of separateness. You just feel so much more capable or accomplished than others that, in your mind, there is you at the top and then everyone else.
When we’re facing any of these difficulties, it’s easy to feel that were’ the only one going through the struggle. But that feeling is pure illusion. There is no human emotion or situation you are counting with that someone, somewhere, cannot understand if you are vulnerable and real an open enough to share your thoughts, feelings, and challenges. Yes, you can keep telling yourself that your spouse can’t possibly understand, and if you never try, that will be self-fulfilling prophecy. … Their lack of understanding only grows in your silence.
A few more points about the lonely-at-the-top syndrome, just because it’s just so corrosive:
First, I’ve rarely met a high performer who thinks they’re “at the top.” Most feel like you’re just getting started. … They understand they’re still students of life, and no matter how stellar their success, they feel that they’re just a few steps in on the path of mastery. This is a widely held attitude with the top scorers of our assessments whom I interviewed.
Second, here’s a special reminder if you have begun dismissing other people’s capabilities. You can’t maximize your potential while minimizing others. What you have attained in life isn’t because your’e all that special, but because you’re all that blessed. The reality is that a large part of the differentiation in performance at you level comes down to the habits we’ve discussed – which anyone can begin implementing – augmented by exposure, training, practice, and access to excellence-driven mentors, coaches, or role models. That’s why I often have to remind the superior minded: You are not better than anyone. You likely got more exposure to your topic; you had more information or opportunity available to you; you got trained better; you had the opportunity to put in more passion or deliberate practice over more time; you had the opportunity to receive good feedback and guidance. These things are not inherent to who you are. These things, if given to anther person, would help them rise to your level. True? (If you don’t answer yes, please shake hands with your ego.)
This warrants the simplest of remedies: Don’t just others as below you or separate from you. Your frustration with people is coming from a forgetfulness that almost everyone could succeed at a higher level if they had more exposure, training, practice, and access to excellence-driven mentors, coaches, or role models. Remember, everything is trainable. That doesn’t mean everyone will request the training, put in the hard work, reach number one, or have as much grit as you. But everyone is capable of success. Everyone can win at life. So let’s be honest: You were once a mess, too, or did you forget already? But you improved. Give others that same opportunity. When you remember that you, too, struggled, and you remind yourself that others can dramatically improve themselves, that’s when you start to be more compassionate. That’s when you start to beat back any hint of a superiority complex.
So what’s the solution? I’ve found that the first step is always awareness. You have to be alert and catch yourself when you start thinking you are separate from tother for any reason. Second, you need to develop habits that will help you stay humble and open even as you get better at what you do.
How do you stay humble? … You begin developing a more open and test-oriented mindset by flipping the earlier examples:
- To avoid thinking you’re superior to others, deliberately seek others’ ideas for improving anything you do: If you could improve on my idea, how would you go about it?
- If you find that your thinking is not being challenged enough or your growth has topped out, hire a coach, trainer, or therapist.
- To avoid thinking you automatically deserve people’s admiration or compliance just because of who you are, where you came from, or what you’ve accomplished, remind yourself that trust is earned through caring for others, not bragging about yourself.
- Instead of believing that people don’t understand you and that they are to blame for the fits and failures in your life, take ownership of your actions by reflecting on your role.
- Keep a practice for reminding yourself of your blessings.
These suggestions will help keep you humble, effective, and respectful. That’s how you sustain success, and that’s how you build a life you can be proud of.
- A recent situation where I found myself being overly critical or dismissive of others was …
- The thoughts I had about myself in that situation and others involved were …
- Had I reimagined the situation from a more humble and appreciative view, I would probably have realized that …
- The best way I can remind myself that everyone is dealing with difficulties in life and that we’re all more alike than we are different is …