Excess of success worse than failure?

Mar 14, 2009 by Tony Chung in Strategy

One day, while out with my wife for our weekly coffee date, I read the quote on her grande white mocha two-bag refresh tea soy misto. I thought to myself, how poignant; it made so much sense. The next day, as I slowly enjoyed my triple-venti peppermint soy caramel drizzle latte macchiato, I was surprised to receive the same quote. That was simply too odd.

The way I see it #26: Failure's hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.

The way I see it #26: Po Bronson

Still later, while out for lunch with my friend, a Starbucks shift supervisor, I told this story, and referred to the quote on the cup that I kept encountering. As if on cue, the sleeve from my grande sized beverage fell to the table, revealing the same quote on that cup as well.

I have since seen that quote several times in the past six months.

The infamous quote

A quick email to Starbucks customer relations provided this story:

Cup Number: 26

Author: Po Bronson

Category: Author of stories, screenplays and non-fiction, including What Should I Do With My Life?

Story: Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.

Why success is dangerous

Several years ago I landed a temporary clerical position in health care purchasing. Through my computer skills and willingness to learn, apply, and train the business processes of our organization, I eventually earned full time status with benefits and accrued vacation time. I had a long run of success in that job. I learned what I was supposed to do quickly and my desire to grow led me to drive the position.

That success proved to be dangerous because it soon became apparent I was not passionate about the work even though I did my job well. To make matters worse, I wasn’t driven to succeed in any alternate career paths because I knew I had the stability of my job. Even though I developed and applied new skills outside of the scope of my job, I felt locked into this position, trapped from doing anything outside this job.

I had already been working side contracts, but not enough to convince me to leave the stability. Eventually I had wrestled with myself long enough, and hit the point where I was prepared to leave my successful career and start over. I pushed myself to send out one resume every week, and interview at least one prospective employer every two weeks.

It took outside involvement to break me out of the cycle. One of my technical writing course instructors called me up out of the blue and offered me my first full-time technical writing and illustration gig. The bonus was that I didn’t even need to apply for it. That started a new process of self-discovery where I could apply my ability to learn new technology quickly, write about it, illustrate it, and develop web-based and other content management systems to explain it.

Looking back, I realize that it would have been better if I arranged informational interviews to develop business relationships with interesting companies rather than apply to job postings. In this way I could better find the type of work that suited me, rather than a specific position to fit into.

Why failure is hard

My new path hasn’t been easy, and after losing two jobs back-to-back due to external circumstances, I experienced moments of self-doubt and depression. Even though I was appreciated by my employers and clients, and many of my former co-workers are now good friends I would not have met in my old job, the loss made me feel like a failure.

Every day I need to rise above my feelings consciously decide to lay those cares down at the foot of the cross. God continues to open the doors and I continue to get more work than I can handle without Him. I am grateful for a supportive family, and several friends and colleagues who send work my way. Over the last few years these friends have taught me a lot about networking, business relationships, and prioritizing, all of which help to overcome any feelings of failure.

Something funny

When I searched the Internet for Po Bronson, the quote’s author, I was amused that the front page links to articles published in October 2007, on the science of how consistent sleep makes your child smarter and thinner. Being a father of two energetic boys, I was particularly interested in any science that could help me convince these kids to sleep more.

Ironically, on Oct 15 2007 I posted a link to this very same article on my Facebook page: Can a Lack of Sleep Set Back Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities? — New York Magazine. The same article, by the same authors. I couldn’t believe it.

I knew that I feel connected to certain authors because of their writing styles, but this was the first time I felt that connection even through uniquely different publishing streams. Coincidence? I think not!

Know your calling

I agree with the sentiment that it’s easier to recover from failure because it helps you to find out what you’re not good at. Success can blind you to your true calling, and it may take more than just hard work to break yourself out of the cycle once you realize you’re on the wrong path.

My long-running purchasing career provided me with opportunities I wouldn’t have experienced any other way. I don’t regret the long years, because they helped me to realize the truly important things in life. My new career in technical writing, web development, and music production provides me with more time to spend with my family, which I know is my true calling.

The final word: if you’re in the same boat I was in, where you find yourself growing distant from your present job, don’t lose heart. Decide to live each day focused on your goal. Keep the job if it’s your sole income source, and reach out to your community to find others who may be able to give you opportunities to prove yourself.

 

  • This is too true. If you’re not where you want to be, it’s amazing what can happen when you start moving in the direction you want to go.

  • Just moving forward doesn’t always mean you’re moving in the right direction. Great blog!