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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  • Allison

    Beautiful…and spot on. Beware of what is drilled into us from the world. I’m learning to listen to the inner voice within..vs the outer bull#%^* of the world. My favorite part is the Be DO HAVE…I’ve hears that from dozens of sources…and this version ZINGS in my heart…and it bitch slaps resistance in the face!

  • Azat Salikhov

    Well, there’s a story I’ve heard from Robert Kiyosaki that I believe is worth hearing. It’s about a village that needed water and two guys who rised up to the challenge of providing it. Both got the contracts. One fella immediately grabbed two buckets and started hauling water from a nearby river, while the other one took off and haven’t been seen for a few months. All day long, the 1st guy was running up and down the hill hauling buckets of water – a hard work, you understand, but he was happy as he made quite a bit of money doing it. Everyone forgot about the 2nd guy, when he appeared with a crew and soon after built a pipeline that brought water to the village cheaper, cleaner, and in any quantity. First guy was forced to compete and lowered his rates while also involving his two sons to help him out. In the meantime, second one went around other villages and got more pipelines built to provide even more services to more people. Few years passed and the sons of the 1st guy were going to college. Their dad told them before they left for college: “Hurry back home cause one day this business will be yours to inherit!” Sons never came back. The moral of the story, as you might have guessed, is that you need to work smarter, not harder. 1st guy became Self-Employed while the 2nd became a Business Owner employing others to do his bidding and in the meantime providing more services to more people at best quality and lower rates. Ask yourself a question: “Am I hauling buckets, or am I building a pipeline?” Cheers! ~ Azat.

    • Love this story and it is so true! Sometimes I find myself just working without thinking about the long-term vision. This is a great reminder to begin with the end in mind!

  • Ouch.  This is exactly how I am feeling right now where I give and give and give to my business that there is nothing left for me.  Thanks for providing some clarity so I can now get on with my day.  🙂

  • Danny Thompson

    I have found that the “secret” to succes AND balance is Time Blocking.  You can set whatever monetary/numerical goals you like, and if you stick to your schedule semi-rigidly, you will still have a whole life.  For ten years, I have had a schedule that included 40 hours of work, date night with my wife, family night with the whole family, lunch, exercise, dinner with the family every night, and 5 hours of goof off time during the work week, and Sunday off.  I achieved my goals in real estate sales, maintained my relationships, maintained my ministry, and my sanity.  It can be done.  It begins with Time-blocking, and ends with making the schedule your boss.

  • Azat Salikhov

    One more thing to add. As James Allen (the works of which I can’t praise enough) put it: “Man attracts not which he wants, but that what he is.” ~Cheers, Azat