What are some major flaws of very successful people? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Dandan Zhu, NYC-based Headhunter, Career Coach, Entrepreneur and Go-getter Businesswoman, on Quora:

As a headhunter, my job revolved around identifying, then judging "successful"* people who may potentially be of interest for my clients' open positions. I probed deeply into peoples' lives as their confidant and truly got to see how the top 1% think and act. The base salary for my candidates could be anywhere from $150k to $400k or more; total compensation could be well above $1 million for the Chief Executives I represented.

Success is relative. To be on the same page, here is how I would define a "successful" person for the purpose of this article:

  • Someone who has an above-average aptitude in something which they monetize, thus amassing returns, largely meaning financial wealth. The more wealth accumulated, the more "successful" one may be considered.


Just because I worked with top 1%'ers, that didn't mean I liked all of them or wanted to represent all of them. Some candidates I encountered were rude, dismissive, or otherwise negative; their rudeness, as with rudeness in most cases, was unnecessary. Especially if you rely on someone to provide a service, it's ill-advised to treat them with disrespect. Sure, although many people may be 'successful' compared to the nationwide average, it doesn't negate the fact that everyone has some flaw(s)!

Even in my current role as a career coach, I see on a daily basis that many successful people suffer some flaw(s) which may hold them back from reaching true happiness and achievement. The difference in people who pursue self-learning and coaching is that, they're proactively trying to work on something they know is already an issue. They're trying to find solutions and DO something to change their status quo. It's much better to be vulnerable and realize you need to change than to stay stagnant in a habit that may be impeding growth.

Here are 3 top flaws of successful people I observed:

#1. Success drives complacency, leading to eventual decline and increased risks if not carefully monitored. Most people who have reached financial success will increase their spending habits more than their rate of income increases. Their thinking is, "Well, things will continue to get better and better, so I can afford to treat myself." This mindset leads to higher levels of unnecessary spending/financial recklessness, waste, and an attitude of "I'll just make more next year, so who cares?"

Once started, increased spending habits can trickle into how they live every aspect of their lives. Instead of diligence, arrogance takes over, and the "I am God" mentality takes hold. Once an eager go-getter, now an "I'm better than you" tyrant. The ego declines into self-righteousness, an attitude of "me-me-me, why do I have to pay taxes? Woe is me!" and a total ignorance of privilege while self-victimizing on how everyone is out to get you. Double-whammy! Of course, one should not credit one's circumstance for everything, but at least think about this next point:

#2. Most successful people lack compassion. Many people who have achieved certain income levels are so busy pursuing economic achievement and accumulation that they give back very little. Whether that's time, effort, or cost, many people who have reached success are unlikely to thank their communities or help other communities that very much need support beyond what existing systems provide.

Many people who reach success did it "through their own hard work, blood, and tears". Therefore, they believe others can also achieve the same thing without any further thought as to their ability to access resources and education that others potentially didn't have exposure to. They will not feel the sympathy necessary to help people or share the wealth, so to speak. They're also less apt to contribute to charitable causes through donations or time spent. They think "I did it; therefore anyone can," but without actually sharing any knowledge or supporting others.

Food for thought: the ultra-wealthy do a lot of philanthropic work; think Buffett/Gates. However, most people making 6-figures are not giving back to any significant portion of their income. Sometimes, that's because they don't care. Other times, they simply don't have enough to accommodate their now-high-flying lifestyle. There isn't money to go around. Therefore they don't pay any attention to philanthropic pursuits, entrenching themselves more in "me-me-me" thinking. Heaven forbid any market stumble or job loss, their world will be shaken to the core.

#3. Most successful people do not continue to progress past a certain point. Related to Point #1, most people stop learning because they think they know everything. One example comes to mind; I was in the process of meeting a new candidate, a Chief Scientific Officer of a top biotech. Therefore, as a courtesy to show him how I work my magic, I re-formatted his old resume in my Dandan Global Resume Format, which the majority of hiring managers prefer. Read here to see what that looks like.

As a top-billing headhunter for so many years, this is my bread-and-butter. Resumes are my lifeline. If my candidates don't have the best resumes, I don't get them interviews, and I don't get paid. Thus, part of my competitive edge was that I actively revamped everyone's resume in a way that I found out through trial and error impresses most hiring decision-makers. This method was something immensely valuable to my candidates as I offered this for free and did most of the work for them!

Not only did this candidate become increasingly impatient and defensive, but he also asserted that his old academic CV was "just okay," refusing to be open-minded. Apparently, he got hired off of his old version, so it must be good enough already. Is that complacent or what?! Let's just say, we did not enjoy our meeting.

Ultimately, I chose not to bother beyond a half-hearted check-up here and there as there are much better fish in the sea. Candidates who are that difficult to begin with, end up being even harder to deal with later as clearly, we disagreed from the very beginning on the attitude towards life one should have. I believe in trying new things/keeping an open mind, and his was one of superiority, blinded by his achievements, which although great, did not make him an excellent candidate for a future company who may need someone more flexible.

It was one out of two candidate meetings in my entire career that ended up in distaste and potentially animosity. I was shocked that someone would actively impede their own chances of getting ahead by sticking to an idea they're not even an expert in! By not even acknowledging my work on his behalf, which already exceeded efforts by former headhunters, and by behaving so stubbornly and ignorantly, he lost an ally who could potentially get him a job in the future. A dismissive and closed-minded attitude like his, if continued, will do some serious damage to anyone's growth.

I hope this was a helpful post on what not to do when you reach the beginnings of "success." Life doesn't stop and neither should we. Real success lies in continued innovation, achievement, and learning! And I don't mean institutionalized education or credentialing (much of which is unnecessary and ineffective, read more here). True learning lies in one's actions to pursue topics and information outside of formal means in pursuit of self-improvement.

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