How to Not Be a Victim of Your Own Success

The more I hang around people who are successful in various ways, and the more of the success I dreamed about in my 20s comes into my life now, the more I am convinced of the reality of “victim of one’s own success”

Before I say any more on this topic, let me assure you I’m not seeking any sympathy with this post- (First World problem, right?)

And yet, precisely because people are afraid of looking as sympathy-seekers, or just plain arrogant, for writing about this topic, I think it’s one of the most under-reported areas of the human experience.

Take any kind of success you could imagine… financial, business, artstic, fame, romantic, sexual, social…

Now, take a person who is at a certain level of success in each of these areas in life… and rapidly add a large increase in success, in one or more of these areas, as if “overnight”…

The system easily gets overwhelmed and things start frying.

This is analogous to businesses which grow too rapidly, and then have problems delivering, managing, and executing- and implode. Think Friendster (before the time of a lot of these young’uns, I know…) which before its bust was having 1 minute load times per page, because it couldn’t handle its bursting user growth.

The success in demand the company experienced, was beyond the capacity of the leadership, capital, business structures, processes, company culture, etc., to stretch, and the system simply got overwhelmed and failed.

Just as businesses can grow too rapidly, now that so many people are self-employed in one way or another, it’s important to note that “the business of you” can grow too rapidly as well.

We’ve all heard of lottery winners who lose all their money and go back to being broke. Too much money, too rapidly, for their system to handle.

The same happens with fame: all those celebrity flame-outs, meltdowns, crashes… Most of us (including me) have absolutely no idea of the kind of pressure it’s like to have that level of fame. From having spent some time with a few people with that level of fame, I can say from observation, it’s a VERY mixed blessing. In fact, it is often deadly–no wonder they use so much damn drugs! Too much success for one nervous system to handle.

The ones who persist (think Mick Jagger, outliving generation and generation of rock-star flameouts, stronger than ever) are the ones who just have a massive, massive capacity for energy running through their nervous system.

That’s the heart of the issue. How much energy can your nervous system handle? To use an analogy, just as a system which depends on electricity can have too little electricity running through it (and not turn on), if that same system gets a rapid, unexpected, and overwhelming jolt of electricity, the whole system can fry… except, in our own human nervous system, we don’t have fuses which blow first to save us… we just have nervous meltdowns.

In my own life, I’ve been very open, the area I’m struggling most with in this regard is communication. My personal habits around communication (built largely when I was a lonely, socially awkward, desperate 20-something) were simply not built to handle the amount of communication coming and going now that I’m kinda “famous” (in an Internet sense.)

(And no, “Get an assistant” is not a good answer… An assistant can’t satisfyingly return 26 voice messages from amazing people I’d love to talk with on the phone if I didn’t have a book to write…) I don’t really have an answer to this one yet–but not having an answer never stopped me from writing about something!)

Yet, getting back to generalities… as you create more and more “energy” running through your life (financial, social, romantic, sexual, fame, etc.)…. Always keep an eye on also always increasing your capacity to *conduct* that energy through your system so that you don’t fry your circuits…

Via better self care, more rest, more unplugging, more systems and structures and help and organization, expectation management and boundaries… Otherwise, you might become the next Friendster rock-star flamout of personal growth!

Be a Facebook of personal growth (zero to a billion, about as smooth as one could imagine), by investing in your personal capacity and infrastructure… not a Friendster burnout.