The Perils Of Success

Photo credit: BBC

So much is being said and written about perseverance and pushing through failure as many times as it takes until success is finally achieved.

No one, however, tells you about the problems associated with success.

Let me tell you a little anecdote.

One day I decided to make my own homemade Pastrami. An Armenian-style dried-meat delicacy famous and sought after where I come from. I was very careful with my choice of beef and was meticulous in the way I salted and dried the meat, and after covering it with the aromatic mixtures of herbs and garlic I made sure that it’s hung out to dry in a well-ventilated place. The result was a resounding success. Everyone who has tried it loved it. I was proud of myself and the initial success that I wanted to do another batch.

But, It wasn’t as good. I did not dry it well enough, one cut of meat was ruined because it wasn’t insulated from the air as well as it should’ve been. I didn’t do a good job on the next attempt and I believe the reason is that I thought it was just way too easy and I could just relax and not get hung up on the details as much. I was overconfident and let my initial success allow me to drop my standards. A huge mistake.

Then I started to think and was reminded of how common it really is for people to hit success and then think that everything they touch will turn to gold, and then it doesn’t. There is an assumption that once a person manages to do something really well that they cannot mess up the next thing, but they most certainly can.

This is why a track record of a person’s accomplishments doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot make colossal mistakes on the next project, that they cannot drop the ball on a big assignment, or that they will just not care enough to give the task their full attention.

It’s the exact reason why you keep hearing this Warren Buffet quote: “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” It is also the Fifth Law in the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene: “So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life.” It all does make sense if you tie it with a nice bow with this beautiful Naval Ravikant quote: “Self-esteem is the reputation that you have with yourself.”

It is a real problem for people who are still trying to master a new skill and find their way to success after a long time of trying and not getting anywhere. It is a worse problem for those who succeed at their first attempt without even going through failure (Lottery winners?).

Pay attention to what you are doing and just know that your focus, attention to detail, and consistently excellent performance depend on your ability to do everything as well as you possibly can every single time.

There will come a time when you will be doing a certain task on autopilot. When you’ve achieved a level of mastery that ingrained all habits of excellence in an automatic program you can simply run and not worry about it not working. You just need to keep an eye on the results and make sure that everything is to your satisfaction. Trust, but verify. Measure twice and cut once.

That’s how you gain a reputation for excellence without getting drunk on past success. Always remember: past performance is not an indication of future results.


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