Success, Guilt, and High Achievers

Published on May 31, 2011

I was just thinking today about some common themes that are coming up with some of my high achieving coaching clients.

My guess is that it is striking a cord with me because I have a tendency to struggle with these issues myself.

(By the the middle of writing this blog, my husband came across a podcast with Tom Delong, Harvard Business School professor, called “The Hidden Demons of High Achievers” that absolutely HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD regarding this topic, so after you read this... check out the link at the bottom! It's pretty short (compared to my blog)...but excellent.)

This phenomenon affects highly driven, success oriented, obedient, and talented people. 

Especially when they are compelled to fully engage in a coaching program or training course (or anything) whereby they are challenged to compete and “win” through following a set of pre-determined rules or guidelines.

In sales industries, it seems as though there is always a high sense of urgency and a lot of pressure around lead generation. Of course this is a big deal because without it, there are no sales... and without sales, there is no income. Generating leads is a must. I get question.

The challenge is when taken to the extreme by individuals like I described above, the intense focus causes an imbalance in a variety of ways. Depending on the person’s prioritization of values, it can be a real problem.

It can actually cause more harm than good!

Here is where I see the imbalances happen most often...

  1. Relationships
  2. Health
  3. Fun
  4. Creativity/Individuality

As people going too far one direction and lose sight of (or forsake altogether) their values in other areas of their lives (many of us aren’t even consciously aware of our true values), they become resentful, confused, angry, burned-out, isolated, overwhelmed, and generally unhealthy both physically and emotionally.

This ultimately leads to one of two things:

  1. Reverting back to their original way of doing things (prior to the attempt) and feeling a sense of failure even if they accomplished more than anyone else ever had in the process of attempting the goal.

  2. Losing their sense of self altogether and sabotaging their relationships, health, and sense of individuality/freedom in the process (still feeling a sense of failure but aren’t sure why).

I am finding the latter more true than the former.

When the heat is on to do more and more business in a short period of time, something else gives. It has to!

So the question is... “Is 6 weeks ... or 8 weeks or ...12 weeks long enough for me to BECOME the person that I want to become and achieve this goal I have created for myself?

The answer is easy... NOT A CHANCE!

This short time frame can definitely make an impact in your life and create some momentum that will get you started. It will not be the “end all - be all” solution to a life by design. It will likely take multiple attempts and various avenues to re-condition yourself and your habits and to become the person you envision yourself to be.

Remember what Earl Nightingale emphasizes, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”

As a matter of fact, this full-on 100 yard dash for some high-achievers may be the beginning of the end of all things valued if not approached with discernment and discretion!

What I mean is this... If you go 100% toward creating 25 new sales and fail to attend to your spouse or partner, what will life look like when you hit the 25th sale? You may have 25 sales and be alone to celebrate!

Or what if you focus on the 25 sales and forget about eating right and exercising? You may hit the 25th sale and kick off the very next day of a heart attack!

And what about fun?

If for a period of time, say 6, 8, 12 weeks or more, you focus on the end goal of 25 sales and you have zero fun in the process, how will you view your success at #25? Will it have been worth it?

Then lastly, there is your individuality an sense of creativity. Most of us place our individuality pretty high on the priority/value list and yet we somehow find ourselves trying to fit into a mold that just doesn’t suit us. We are like square pegs trying to fit into round holes.

So you may hit that 25th sale and look at yourself and say, “Who the heck have I become?”

Having coached over 1000 hours with individual clients and putting in over 1000 classroom hours in the past couple of years, I can certainly speak to this effect. I too experienced the phenomenon and found that at the end of the day, I was worn out, frustrated, disconnected, unhealthy, and resentful (not toward any one or thing in particular...just generally dissatisfied).

Had I given up my personal power to something outside myself?

Had I bought into an “ideal” that was created by someone else?

What about my ideal?

What about my version of a life... my way?


Something inside me was driving this out of control sense to achieve and I was spinning more and more out of balance.

Don’t get me wrong... I made a lot of money and got lots of new toys.

All things that I in fact set out to accomplish in the beginning. Somewhere along the way though, I lost myself. What I realized along the way, however, is that it wasn’t about “what” I was doing or “who” I was doing it with, it was about ME... the way I approached the goal and ultimately life.

I created my own stress!

My desire to achieve combined with my inability to see the successes in my own life was killing me.

This high sense of urgency to GET TO THE GOAL caused me to feel like I was failing if I didn’t hurry up and get there! Not sure where “there” was, but “there” nonetheless. When I wasn't getting there fast enough... I had guilt and frustration!

I write this for all the high-achievers out there who may not be giving themselves enough credit for their accomplishments.

Those who are isolating themselves in the name of a goal... who are forgetting who they are and trying to become a version of themselves that someone else designed... and for myself - because I finally realize that I am the one who gets to decide what success looks like! I get to decide how many calls to make, how many sales to target, and what type of clients I choose to work with. It is very freeing to allow myself to BE ME!

  • BE the person you know in your heart your were created to BE!
  • DO the things that you are passionate about!
  • HAVE those things that matter the most in your life -  and YOU decide what those are!

Programs are great. Goals are wonderful and help keep us focused. At the end of the day, however, it’s not about the program and it’s not about the goal.

It’s about being the best version of YOU possible!

It’s not about the’s about who you become as you seek to accomplish it!

Take time to celebrate your successes...BIG, small, and In-Between!!!!!

Check out Tom Delong's podcast...

I am totally going to buy the book he wrote, “Flying Without a Net. Turn fear of change into fuel for success.”



Nikki Buckelew is the Co-Founder and President of Coaching and Training, a coaching and training company specializing in real estate, leadership, and life coaching for Realtors, brokers, and leaders with SoulFire. Buckelew is also the Founder and CEO of the Seniors Real Estate Institute, a coaching and training company specializing in senior real estate and housing and administrator for the Certified Senior Housing Professional® (CSHP) designation.

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