Beware the Achievement Trap
The foundation of great success rests on a) a belief in yourself and b) your capacity to do what others deem unthinkable. But just because you believe that you should achieve something doesn’t mean you will.
Attaching yourself to the idea of achieving success without the ability to execute is what I call the achievement trap. This phenomenon is commonly referenced in education policy and pop-psychology, but entrepreneurs and business leaders can experience their own version of this distorted thinking.
When you are more concerned with what you are accomplishing instead of why you are trying to accomplish it, you are in the achievement trap.
When your grandiose self-beliefs trump your ability to execute, you are in the achievement trap.
When you are attached to the outcome instead of enjoying the ride, you are in the achievement trap.
I know a founder who was a high-achieving graduate student. Like most bright students, he believed that his intellect and sheer desire to excel would lead to the Holy Grail--a successful start-up. It was no surprise that once the mammoth effort of building a company set in, he became the poster child for burnout--depressed, irritable, uninspired, and unproductive. His belief in his ability to achieve didn’t translate into actual achievement.
Don’t experience your own achievement trap. Here’s how to avoid it:
Practice hardcore hustle.
There’s some compelling research out on grit that says success comes as a result of your ability to stick with a task to completion. This is no secret to successful entrepreneurs. You have to work harder than the other person. Achieving success is now, and has always been, the result of massive amounts of effort. Don’t kid yourself for one minute thinking that your intellectual aptitude somehow precludes you from this path. It doesn’t.
If you’re focused only on the goal or the glory, you probably aren’t enjoying the journey. Why did you start your company in the first place? What inspires you to work hard every day? If you remain focused on what matters to you and why you do it, achieving success very likely will be a welcomed byproduct.
An army of badasses usually surround the people who achieve greatness. Admit you need other people. Learn from them. Identify where you’re not strong and lean on others to pick up your slack. The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve ever known are eager to introduce you to their team because they know they’d be lost without them.
Strive for influence, not power.
Those people who experience the achievement trap often believe they have something to prove. They also believe that acquiring power over others is the ultimate mark of achievement--like they have somehow “arrived” when they can finally tell others what to do. Don’t be this person.
Self-belief is a wonderful thing, but only if it’s punctuated by humility, inspiration, and a lot of hard work. As the great achiever Thomas Edison says, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Dr. SHELLEY PREVOST is a mentor and early-stage investor at Lamp Post Group, where she hacks into the psychological and emotional side of starting and running a business. She is a co-founding partner of the JumpFund, an angel fund investing in female-led startups with high-growth potential. Prevost also speaks and consults with companies on finding purpose, humanizing work, and growing leaders from the inside out. She blogs about her work at the Glad Lab.
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