One of the recent conversations about success I have had is that people are addicted to success. I thought to write about this, as it touches upon two of my interests: 1. Success and how that matters and happens, and 2. Addiction (as a life choice).
I investigated this idea that success could be addictive and found some work on this dating back to the 1980s when Berglass (1986) wrote about the success syndrome. Pasick (1990) also refers to this when talking about success addiction in his work on men in therapy.
Success addiction is regarded as similar to workaholism but instead of time being the drug, in success addiction it is success. In 1990 success addiction most common for men in their peak career years (25-55). One might consider distinguishing success addiction from merely being hungry for success, since not all success leads inevitably to addiction.
Here are some aspects of this addiction:
- see most situations as win or lose
- often give little regard to their health
- find intimate relations difficult as they perceive them as competitions
- focus increasingly on the outcome rather than the process
- leads to persistent dissatisfaction as goals are either unrealistic or provide only temporary fulfillment
- can lead to unethical and illegal actions
- Success becomes a disappointment as the consequence to metal health emotional well-being become manifest
As an addiction here is a process which becomes self-perpetuating doing greater and greater damage over time, while at the same time giving the illusion that everything is going in the direction of greater and greater success
In my experience I have seen people becoming so obsessed with success they develop elaborate fantasies to sustain addictive lifestyles, even when the evidence that success will not materialize becomes overwhelming. Other develop secondary addictions to alcohol or drugs, if not also addicted to gambling and sex.
Success addiction has spawned a whole industry of self-improvement tools promising success as the outcome of using the product, technique or insight. However there is a danger in this that it reinforces the damaging pursuit of success, and making those who don’t feel inadequate, or those that do pursue it look down upon those who don’t. It is because of this that success addiction like any or the addiction feeds the Ego of the addict, and separates them from connections with others. Let’s be honest, who likes someone who constantly seeks to win at all costs, undermine others for their own gain. As a result success addicted people may end up associating largely with other success addicts (similar to alcoholics who are surrounded by other alcoholics), because only they provide the comparison necessary for success addiction to thrive and may be the only people left who might tolerate the self-absorbed tendencies of success addicts.
Some becry people’s motivation to succeed by complaining that there is too much success addiction. Inevitably this is a an unduly negative portrayal of success – in a way the mirror image of the overly positive image of success perpetuated by the success industry and success addicts.
My own position is more pragmatic as well as balanced. Success is neither good nor bad intrinsically. What makes it good or bad is its impact both on the individual pursuing the success as well as the people who are affected by it. Probably most people would not consider a hunger for developing a cure for cancer as a problem of success addiction. The reason being is that a cure for cancer would be an amazing ground-breaking achievement that would potentially benefit all of mankind. But what if the researcher developing it behaved in driven ways that made everyone working for them miserable, including themselves. How would we consider their success? If they invented a cure for cancer we would judge them a success but not focus much on how they got there.Does the ends justify the means? A good question to ask is how one’s efforts to success are impacting on others and to ask whether or not there are other ways of engaging with the world around us.
Pasick, R. (1990). Raised to work. Men in therapy: The challenge of change, 35-54.