Why success ruins us


I used to do competitive karate. I did it well enough to earn two consecutive world titles. And you know what I used to tell the kids struggling to win their first few matches? That there’s a big difference between winning and being a winner. “I don’t care if you win or lose a match,” I said, “I care about you becoming a winner. It’s not the same at all.”

Winning can happen by accident. It can be a fluke. Being a winner is much tougher than just winning once or twice - it involves character building, discipline, constant effort and vigilance, it means getting up early and giving up excuses. Once you have that (shocker; it never happens overnight), and you start winning matches because of all that hard work and dedication, then you can enjoy success… for 24 hours.

Because winners never rest. The next day they’re back at it, training for the next match. They don’t let one gold medal, or six in a row, ruin their discipline.

If we let it get to our head, success is confirmation bias of the worst kind. It makes us think we’ve arrived (no matter where we thought our destination was). That we’re the champ. The winner. On freaking fire.

But that’s an illusion. I mean, sure, success is good, don’t get me wrong. I’d like more money, too. Maybe a touch of fame as well. Because it’s a sign you’ve done something right. But that’s only true up to a point. A point in time.

Success is about your past. Something you did that worked well enough for a sufficiently large group of people. Woop-dee-doo. Well done, etc. But success tells us nothing of the present and even less of the future. Just ask Vanilla Ice. Nothing fails to predict the future like success.

Sure, enjoy having done well. But remember that without the right attitude, discipline and work ethic, maybe you weren’t so much successful as just plain lucky.

The narcissist I know

The tragedy of wishful thinking, or why cookies don't make you thin