The more successful a person becomes, the more distractions there are. The harder it is to remain focused on their core objectives.
We are now living in what Harvard Business Review calls, “The Gig Economy,” where you’re essentially working for yourself as a specialist or collaborator with multiple companies or multiple projects.
In the gig economy, you want to be what Kevin Harrington calls, “A key person of influence,” which means you’re well-known in the field and get access to all the best gigs.
The challenge with getting access to all the best gigs is that opportunities can be distractions.
When you start to become successful, tons of opportunities pop-up and it can be very difficult not to chase pretty pennies or other people’s definitions of “success.” Whether that be making more money, having more influence, etc.
Success begets success. When you develop a certain position and skill-level, you can get results a lot faster and easier than you initially could. You’ve also undergone several quantum leaps in your psychology — allowing you less fear and apprehension about failing and trying new things.
Ladders is now on SmartNews!
Download the SmartNews app and add the Ladders channel to read the latest career news and advice wherever you go.
Because you’ve succeeded regularly in the past, you expect to continue to succeed. Which can create an over-confidence where you pursue things you have little skill or ability in. You also lack a firm enough WHY to truly create mastery, but are often seeking faster and faster wins. Sustaining the dopamine highs of “winning” can confuse people.
Need for achievement
According to psychological research, most people who are highly-driven have what’s called a high “need for achievement.” If these people value something, they go after it with relentlessness.
If you value money, fame, influence, or looking good, you’ll probably get it. If you value family or faith, you’ll probably thrive at those things. Whatever you value, you’ll do whatever you can to achieve in that area.
The challenge is, when you become more successful you can easily come to value vaguer and vaguer notions of “success,” and forget the core reasons that got you excited in the first place.
On top of that, developing mastery at something, or getting to a position where results become easy can be mind-numbing.
Human beings adapt very quickly to their situation. Often, when a person becomes successful, they get lazy because the results can come easily. They’ve got the money, confidence, connections, skills, and resources to replicate the results that used to take faith, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.
When choices start to falter
The challenge with becoming successful is that you can become apathetic and bored with where you’re at. Which can dull the razor’s edge needed to be hungry, humble, and striving.
You can begin justifying staying up later. Throwing away your solid routines. Not setting yourself next day up for success. Planning less. Going thorough the motions more. Seeking more forms of entertainment.
Personality and identity are both shaped by decisions. As is confidence.
Consequently, if a person whose been successful in the past begins making less quality decisions consistently, their confidence will subtly drop, even if subconsciously. They may not even see it happening, because the changes will be so minor day-to-day. Also, they probably won’t discern their inevitable plummet because they’ll be “succeeding” in visual areas. Yet internally they’re falling apart.
Author Molly Bloom calls this the obsession to seek increasingly unsustainable dopamine hits.
This is why you can quickly blow past the “best”
Wherever you currently are — you can blow past the “best” of the best in your industry. The 1%.
Because they’re dealing with everything I’ve just detailed above.
People change over time.
People get bored.
They lose track of what they want and why.
They need new frontiers and challenges.
They get distracted by shiny objects.
They get distracted by all the noise and other forms of perceived “success” and they stop polishing their craft. In basketball terms, they stop practicing their lay-ups and free-throws.
You may not notice a drop in their performance over the first year or two, but eventually it catches up. And it catches up VERY fast when it does.
I’ve witnessed this in some of the people I once admired. Those people who sit atop my field when it comes to influence and mastery. I’ve watched some of my favorite authors and thinkers completely lose focus on what they were about and to start playing it “safe” in the content they produced.
I could tell they started getting lost and numbed and confused by everything going on around them.
They stopped pushing themselves.
They stopped making increasingly better and better decisions.
At some point, they became satisfied enough with their results that they allowed goal-defeating behavior to creep-in. And it began to creep-in consistently enough to erode their confidence.
Here’s how to crush it in the “gig economy”
According to the research cited in the Harvard Business Review article referenced above, here’s how to thrive in the gig economy:
- keeping a schedule
- following a to-do list
- beginning the day with the most challenging and creative work
- optimizing for sleep
I can attest to this. The best way to succeed in an economy where you’re rewarded by the quality of your results and thinking — not by the amount of time you work — is by optimizing your time and energy.
You need to do your best work when you work best. This means you must make hard decisions. You have to miss certain things that the masses won’t be willing to miss — like staying up late on your favorite mind-numbing distraction.
You’ll need to optimize your evenings for sleep and recovery. You’ll need to wake up recovered, get clarity, and produce your best work before the day takes over.
If you continually push yourself to expand and grow, you’ll get better and better opportunities. All the best gigs will come your way.
You should absolutely take those. They’ll continue to push you further in your growth and creativity.
You should collaborate with your mentors and heroes. But you also need to continue producing at the same volume and quality of your own work.
This is the tricky part.
When you start growing your platform, influence, and business — you still need to maintain the mindset of that scrappy creative while grappling the success you’re achieving.
While everyone else in the top 1-3% are getting fatter and lazier, you’re getting leaner and remaining just as humble and disciplined as you were when you first started.
You’re still connecting and collaborating. You’re still expanding your network and business skills.
But you will never forget about why you’re really doing this. You absolutely do have a need for achievement. And you know which direction you want to point it toward. You’re not going to allow yourself to get lost in other people’s perceptions of “success,” no matter how lucrative, sexy, or easy.
You’re going to stay your course and achieve your mission. And this is what’s going to separate you from the rest. This is how you’re going to blow past the “legends.” At some point, they lose their hunger and drive. At some point, they started pursuing first place in the finish lines.
They stop pushing their creative boundaries.
They stop learning as much and became comfortable with the level of expertise they had.
They become more scattered in their thinking and priorities — which is almost impossible not to do. Because the more successful you become, the more complex your work and life becomes.
Yet, you can remain clear as things become complex by remaining true to what achievements matter most to you. And by continually pushing your creative boundaries. By continually producing on your own while you’re growing a business or collaborating with others.
You’ve got this.
You can blow-past the elite. Just don’t lose yourself on the way up. Keep doing what you’re doing. Maintain that same level of discipline and productivity. Keep producing. Keep creating. Stick with your process. It’s killing it.
Listen to your body.
Listen to your soul.
More from Ladders
- Chronic procrastination: 5 weird (but effective) ways you can conquer it
- Eight great tricks for reading people’s body language
- How to keep going and find your breakthrough when it feels impossible
- 10 tweaks to your morning routine that will transform your entire day
- Neuroscience reveals 4 rituals that will make you an awesome parent