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Why Success Can be Dangerous for Your Career

Whether you’re part of a larger organization or run a business on your own, all careers have serious challenges fraught with all kinds of dangers.

Often the most dangerous thing that can happen is, surprisingly, success.

That’s right, you heard me. Success can be one of the most dangerous things that can happen to your career. And here’s why:

Success brings distractions

Success creates opportunities. More opportunities means more options and distractions. You win one client, then another, then another. Now you need more infrastructure and have to hire and train help. Or you get a big promotion. Now you have to manage employees whose job performance reflects on your own. Success is wonderful and worth pursuing, but it has to be coupled with focus.

Focus is the key to ongoing success, so you can avoid the one-hit wonders. As you make smart choices, the risk of becoming distracted grows.

So establish a clear vision and mission for your career and stick with it. Come rain or shine, success or failure, focusing on this will keep you on track.

Success breeds over-confidence

This is the opposite extreme of distractions. Over-confidence often leads to tunnel vision and mindless pursuit of…well, pick your poison.

Sure, you closed some big sales, made some big risks and got some victories. But are you really ready for even bigger challenges just a few days later? Maybe you need to step back and shore up your current clients, making sure your operations and infrastructure can properly support them.

Over-confidence often leads to charging ahead, leaving certain people or structural elements behind. By structural elements, I mean your organization might not be able to support another round of success, or you may need more education before reaching for that next promotion.

How can you be sure you’re not getting a big head? Run a scenario and see what closing that next big deal would look like for your operations, your accounting, your human resources. Could you maintain the quality of your current responsibilities while also providing the expected output for that next task or client?

Success elicits false positives

False positives are like the milk in your cookie recipe. It was good a month ago, but if you use the same milk today, your cookies will probably taste like the wrong end of a bad day. One of the best examples of false positives are early successes that lead to inaccurate information. If you’re not careful, you might try to repeat your process and end up with horrible or lackluster results.

False positives are frequent in the beginning of a career or a company simply because there isn’t enough historical data to support decision-making. It’s difficult to put all of the reasons for early success into a neat, clean package of lessons learned. You have to be careful if you think you can take a cookie-cutter approach, especially since businesses value those who know how to be innovative in their careers.

Success can lead to paralysis

Finally, big success can create a deer-in-the-headlights type of paralysis as the spotlight is turned onto you. One day you’re doing your best in the trenches, and the next you’re presenting in front of the board or getting a lot attention you didn’t expect.

Maybe it’s all in your head: you thought you could pull off the success, but now that you’re here, you don’t know what to do. The opportunities, fear of over-confidence, false positives and other negatives freak you out and you freeze. You feel the need to continue the positive momentum, and the pressure builds. Success can be scary.

The fix here is to go back to your mission and vision. Focus. You can cut through the clutter and the clamor by getting back to your roots.

Success can sometimes be the most dangerous thing to happen to a career. That’s not to say that success is bad by any means, but even success has to be managed.

Tara Hornor writes for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company that offers brochure printing, business cards, flyers, posters, postcard printing, booklets and other printed marketing media. Connect with @TaraHornor on Twitter.

20 comments

  1. This is a great post about the downsides of success. While everyone strives to be successful in their career, success can come with it’s own unique problems. While you were probably dreaming about the moment of your success when recording your video resume, in real life success often means more responsibilities. Make sure you’re focused and ready when success comes your way, so you can make the most of new opportunities and grow along with your career.

  2. This is a great article which can be applied to all aspects of life. Things never run along in a straight line for a long time. There will be ups and down because external events around you impact on your daily life. The advice to stay focused on your mission and vision is a sure way to keep you standing on steady ground.

  3. I’ll take the success and all the problems that may arise. I have been poor, hungry, wet and tired. I must say though all the hard times made me stronger and a better polite reasonable person. Really successful people tend to forget where they came from at times and be conceded or stuck up.

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