Check Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself
I wonder about this all the time. People who seem to have it all, people at the pinnacle of success like Hollywood stars, super star musicians, powerful politicians and corporate executives, hedge fund financiers & billionaire entrepreneurs. One minute they are on top of the world. The next their lives have imploded. And most of the time this is very much self inflicted.
These are clearly NOT stupid people. But eventually the skills and attitude of what made them successful, works against them when they hit a certain stage.
One big factor in my opinion is they start to develop a massive sized ego for their rightfully hard earned position. They start to believe their own PR. They stop listening to others and/ or more likely surround themselves with “Yes People.” This is a very dangerous environment to be in as you rapidly lose touch with reality. The Greeks had a great term for this. Hubris: “Excessive pride and self confidence which leads to their destruction”.
This is endemic in big corporations with a long history. Why do you think there are always big crises hitting big companies (and big bureaucracies)? NO one wants to pass up bad news. SO the truth gets suppressed until it hits critical mass and explodes. For an illustrative example, read the latest book on the WeWork debacle called “The Cult of We” by Brown & Farrell. No one comes out of this looking good.
I also think a combination of complacency or magical thinking makes them lose their edge. As Microsoft founder Bill Gates once remarked, “Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.”
In the startup world I see this in founders who recently raise a very large venture capital funding round or rounds. They take their feet off the gas in the business, or they jump into the conference speaking circuit.
Or what is also common, arrogance & know-it-all-ism in many venture capitalists. They are treated like B-list stars by founders and the media. They conflate this for their own personal brilliance and genius, when it’s really just about their access to money.
How to combat this?
- Have a sense of humor and try not to take yourself too seriously. Ego is the enemy as they say
- Try REALLY hard to have some self awareness, some humility & remember where you came from
- Have mentors you respect and who keep you in check
- Have a partner and friends not from your industry (this definitely works as they don’t care or understand your fame/clout whatever)
- Hang out with people way more successful than you are
- Work with diverse people who challenge you (nicely or not) ie. No YES PEOPLE & Sycophants. You have to weed them out.
With success that seems to hit so fast these days, it’s really easy to lose touch with reality. Make sure you build some self awareness and humility and face reality. As remarked in the bible, Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Sadly, I believe many people will only learn this the hard way.