The dark side of high achievement
End product perfection.
Instagram picture-ready life.
The “overnight success six figure business”
Puh-lease. Enough already.
It’s not even real, my friend. None of it.
A few years ago I was fighting in the last karate tournament I ever entered. It was a world titles. And I won.
After the fight, a lady who had known me for years came up to me and, without realising, almost dismissedly said “That was easy for you, you’re such a natural”.
It was innocent. She didn’t even realise what she had just dismissed with her words. I was stunned. I realised in that moment that despite having seen me once a week at training for years, this woman knew nothing about what I had just done.
What she didn’t know was that I had trained my ass off, for 5 hours a day for the past 15 years to make those few minutes of the final fight of the day she saw, look “natural”. Every bit of training I had ever done, was involved in getting to those moments of “glory”.
I had missed out on parties with my friends since the age of 15 to be “natural”.
That day was a huge celebration for me, and those close to me. I had just come out the other end of a three year health battle with chronic fatigue. It was my first big tournament “back”. My boyfriend at the time was having chemotherapy. It had been the hardest year of my life to date.
I literally had to call on every bit of inner work I had done on myself to get through.
Just to get to that tournament, which was held in Birmingham, England, I had to save every penny I earned in the small amount of work I was doing when I returned after being sick, just 6 months earlier. I hadn’t gone out at night for a party for almost three and a half years. We didn’t get paid a cent for winning. We funded ourselves. It was literally for nothing but glory.
And here I was, in my 15 minutes of “glory”, and this woman had made up a story about me in her own mind - because she saw the end result.
She had no idea what went into that polished, final product.
What she saw was me, with my hair done, winning a tournament and excited to go on a European holiday afterwards with my boyfriend who had a strange bald patch on the back of his head.
She wasn’t privy to the tears. The heartache. The fear I felt every day that My health would never get better and my partner was going to die. The late nights going up and down and up and down a football oval in the dark with my headphones in my ears practising drills until I couldn’t stand any longer and my feet blistered.
Half because I was determined to succeed, and half because I needed something to do to distract myself from the fact my partner was dying and I couldn’t do anything to help him.
Nobody gets to see that ugly side. It’s private. It’s personal. And it’s almost always there - in a different form for everyone. These things are usually what drive us. Or what wake us up to get started.
And everybody forgets it’s there. It’s there for everyone whose ever done anything worth looking at. But the journey doesn’t get seen in the final product more often than not.
Only the final product is what we see and remember.
I’ve been coaching high performers for almost ten years now. From executives, to entrepreneurs, performers and athletes. And there’s always one common thread. I’d like to do a little bit of destroying in this article, in order to help you see what’s behind most of what you are striving for.
Because beyond what you think is your edge, there’s always more.
And because, underneath every success is a mountain of mess, failure, almost giving up, fear, disasters, breakups, stress… the same things we experience before the success.
We are humans. Nobody is the end product. The end product, is actually, a bi-product.
I’m not worried about going to the dark side of high achievement here, because the hype is so prevalent, and everywhere, I know after reading this there is every chance you’ll forget how many shots it took to get that one simple image you scroll past on Instagram. I know how easy it is to forget.
But you must remember that the discomfort is an essential part of the journey.
Maybe you can relate to this:
- “When I make more money, it will solve all my problems”
- “When I’m finished with this project, I’ll be able to relax. I’ll be free!”
- “When I have more followers, things will be so much easier. I can just write emails all day and make money.”
- “Her life is amazing. I want to be just like that. She’s got money, she’s got a great guy, and she’s got a huge following! It must be so easy for her”
- “He makes a lot of money, and has a great lifestyle. One day I hope to be in the same position.”
Everything you see these high performing people share?
Truth (I should hope), And also, Hype.
I have coached “flow masters’ who complain endlessly that their travel schedules exhaust them. But, their speaking gigs are international! It’s the new “golden handcuff!”
I have coached millionaires who find it hard to know who to trust, and find it hard to make friends and meet people - because they don’t know if someone likes them for who they really are, or because of who the world thinks they are.
I have also coached “influencers” who are burned out, because they never take an actual break from taking influential photographs of themselves In unique places, and find it exhausting to have to come up with new content and “keep up with trends” all the time.
And I have coached althletes at the top of their game, who feel totally isolated by their own high achieving temprament. Their friends and family don’t understand them, or they struggle to hold down relationships, or they’re flat broke - but they’re famous.
We do this weird thing as humans.
We compare others outsides, to our insides.
We look at the final product of 15 years of training and think someone makes it look easy because they must be talented and live a charmed life. Because that’s what the final product is designed to look like.
We don’t see what they feel in that moment. That’s what’s on the inside.
There’s a dark side to high achievement.
The higher you rise, the more responsibility you have. The more people want to criticise you, bring you down, and beat you. The better you have to be, because you put more pressure on yourself than ever.
Your problems don’t go away, in fact they become bigger. (You can handle them usually, if you have coveted ways to cope with stress and pressure along your growth adventure, but it’s the same!) And it requires all of your inner work to set firm boundaries and take care of yourself while the world expects more of you.
It’s absolutely possible, but it’s not always what it looks like.
For all humans, when we lean into our edge, we feel discomfort. We all have inside thoughts we don’t need the whole world to see. Everyone feels fear when they’re stretched enough.
If you think someone makes it look easy, it’s usually because they’ve done it a thousand times.