By all counts and measures, the desire to be successful is deep within our psyches.
At the dawn of human civilization, during the time of untreatable epidemics and short life spans, success meant simply surviving. As humans became more sophisticated, the meaning of success transformed into indicators we could actually quantify: things like building a business, achieving artistic greatness or changing the world.
But what happens when success consumes you?
A few months ago while watching “Whiplash,” an award-winning movie about an ambitious jazz drummer’s journey to greatness, I saw stark glimpses of myself.
In the film, the main character Andrew (Miles Teller), enrolls in a prestigious music conservatory and will stop at nothing to win the approval of his unforgiving instructor, Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). When Andrew practices frenetically until his hands bleed, it becomes clear that he’s willing to pay an extreme physical and psychological price to become a jazz legend. In one of the more telling scenes, Andrew is in a serious car wreck on the way to a performance. Instead of waiting for help, he climbs out of his overturned car, shattered glass digging into his skin, grabs his drumsticks, and takes off running down the highway.
Entrepreneurs, creatives and visionaries who push themselves to the brink of self-destruction in the name of success are not a novel idea. For those who follow the path of least resistance, the mad descent of perfecting a craft or devoting your life to a business is unthinkable. But for many of us seduced by success, we cannot fathom anything other than a deliberate and passionate journey towards a life of mastery. And we’re willing to suffer for it, too.
The need to show our imprint in today’s landscape has never been greater. With our lives on display constantly and the successes of others barreling through our social feeds, the pressure to do something remarkable is intense. Why are some people more driven to achieve than others? And, if success is indeed seductive, what about it calls to our innate hunger for wanting more?
We Have Something to Prove
All our life, we encounter people and situations that cast doubt upon us and write us off. They challenge our ability to realize a vision. They question our intellect. They say we don’t have what it takes. These words can breed insecurity. When my partner Ashleigh and I started our branding agency, Motto, many people told us we would fail. We were young women with no experience or money, and no one had ever heard of us. After 10 years of hustle and hard work, we’re writing our first book, speaking to leaders on building magnetic brands, and working with amazing clients around the globe. What the non-believers don’t realize is that their doubt cultivates the champion spirit within.
We’re Tempted by the Fantasy
When you’re climbing to the top, it’s easy to create a mental picture of what you think your life will become. This utopian fantasy is likely filled with things like money, fame and euphoria. Success often tricks us into believing that happiness and significance are tied directly to it. As driven entrepreneurs, we’re even more susceptible to wanting a quick ticket to dreamland where all the “extraordinary” people go. It’s normal to want the perks that success brings, but ultimate success goes far beyond the material.
We’re Drawn to the Hunt
Every road to success is paved with extreme challenges. But even when we face obstacles that seem insurmountable, we keep soldiering on. Aside from the fantasy of what success may bring us, we’re called to the hunt itself. We thrive off of the chase, the climb and the journey, because in the end, it gives our life greater meaning. We learn new skills, earn a new perspective on the world, and gain a clearer understanding of our truest selves. It’s fed by our natural hunger for pursuing that which is just out of reach. Success hunters must acknowledge this in order to harness it in positive ways.
We’re Never Satisfied
The success-seeker can never appreciate what they’ve gained or achieved. Even after you’ve reaped the accolades or reached notable successes, there’s a part of you that’s still not content. You believe you’ve yet to reach your true potential. Even if our names become immortalized in history for a certain achievement, we’re quickly overshadowed by worrying it’s not enough and the glory fades. We become obsessed with challenging our own thresholds because each new win fuels us to aspire to more wins. What we must recognize is that never being satisfied clouds our ability to feel grateful and to celebrate little victories.
No matter what stage of success you’re in, it’s easy to become consumed by what awaits just beyond the horizon. However, let us be reminded that while success is seductive, we should fall in love with the idea of seeking significance instead of chasing after success. The greater pursuit should be to make your life and work matter, to be indispensable, and to influence, help and inspire.
After all, success comes to visit but it doesn’t come to stay.