High achievers get more done than most people.
Sometimes, that achievement comes at a cost.
Alan is a high achiever. Although not an actual person, he represents many people. Perhaps you, or someone you know.
Alan is smart, and he always seems confident and in control. Although he works in a high-stress job, he seems to handle it well. He strives to get things right, works hard to be good at what he does, and takes pride in excellence. Alan gets a lot done, and people marvel at his energy and dedication.
Self-sufficiency and a drive for perfectionism have enabled Alan to advance rapidly. Inside, he is proud of his achievements, and he feels that the accolades that come his way are well-deserved. His drive to excel often keeps him at work longer than most people, so he has found his own ways to relax and blow off some steam.
The Cost of High Achievement
What are the qualities of high achievers? They include a sense of control, an aim for perfectionism, and self-sufficient decision-making.
Want to know some of the traits of many alcoholics? The same list.
Add feelings of entitlement and pride, and throw in a high-stress work environment. That adds up to the profile of high-achieving professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and business executives.
According to The Benchmark Institute, about 15-24% of US lawyers and up to 15% of health care professionals are addicted to alcohol. This is compared to 10% of the general population.
“My strong, strong suspicion is that what makes some people more likely to rise to the top is the same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.” (David Linden, Author and Neurobiologist at John Hopkin’s School of Medicine)
Sometimes, a striving for excellence can be accompanied by an obsession for achievement, or perfection, or (perhaps surprisingly) approval. Which can lead to workaholism, or a compulsion for control, or perhaps an anger problem. And, eventually, to a more dangerous addiction for alcohol, drugs, or pornography.
“The traits that make a good CEO – risk-taking, strong drive for success, obsession, dedication, novelty-seeking – are precisely what make a ‘good’ addict.” (Alice G. Walton, Why the Brains of High-Powered People May Be More Prone to Addiction in Forbes)
Finding the Right Balance
Unfortunately, traits that enable high achievement can hamper one’s progress toward recovery.
Pride and entitlement prevent them from recognizing their issues and dealing with them. The acceptance of spirituality that marks the beginning of recovery is hampered by an inability to accept one’s own imperfections and surrender them to a higher power.
“Those qualities of absolute control, perfectionism, and independent decision-making, which work so well in high-stress careers, go against some of the basic principles in recovery. In recovery, mistakes are human. You are asked to give up control, indeed surrender, to a power greater than yourself.” (Dr. Harry Haroutunian, Director, Betty Ford Center, in Being Sober)
But there is hope. And a more balanced life can be found.
The first step for high achievers is to recognize that there is, indeed, a problem, and to ask God for help. The next step is to decide, perhaps for the first time, to face up to their issues. And to begin to realize the pain they may be causing to the people closest to them.
Then, to develop habits to move in the right direction. Finally, to glimpse, in what may be a breakthrough, that they may be able to help others who are stricken by the same issues.
One step at a time, a new way of living can be found, by an approach that may still embrace hard work and excellence, but in balance with other positive attributes as well.
The cost of high achievement may, at times, be high.
But, there is hope. Even for Alan.
Question: Do you know any high-achievers who resemble Alan?
Action: Think of an area where you may be too achievement-oriented.