We’ve heard tales of successful individuals like J.K. Rowling, Jim Carey, and Oprah Winfrey struggle with clinical depression and anxiety (1). It seems like the relationship between success and mental health is highly intertwined. While success is linked to financial and professional stability, it seems like there’s also a positive correlation between success and mental illness.
Therefore, while most of us want to be successful, it’s important that we understand the costs and implications of being successful. We also need to redefine success into a definition that supports both our personal values and our wellbeing.
The connection between success and mental illness
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman studied 242 entrepreneurs and found that 49% of them reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions (2). These entrepreneurs were also more likely to demonstrate symptoms of depression, attention hyperactivity deficit disorder, bipolar spectrum disorder, and substance abuse. So, why exactly are successful people more prone to poorer mental health? Let’s figure out:
1. Higher expectations
With most good things, being successful comes with a price (3). The higher you climb up the ladder, the farther you have to fall. More so, success comes with heavy responsibilities, high expectations, and unwanted attention. These added pressures easily pile up, which makes them likely impact one's mental health.
2. More stigma for seeking help
Sadly, the stigma for seeking help amplifies when you’re a successful person (4). On top of public scrutiny, highly accomplished people may fear being perceived as being incapable or weak. This makes it more difficult for them to seek help when they need it.
3. Increased time in isolation
Successful people spend a lot of time alone due to their overbearing to-do list. This creates a strong sense of isolation and self-neglect. It’s common to see high-achieving individuals pushing away social connections and ignoring self-care to pursue their goals. Over time, this can manifest into severe mental health concerns and burnout.
How To Redefine Success
It’s no question that we all deserve to strive to be our best selves. However, it’s also clear that pursuing success comes with its complications. Hence, to get the best of both worlds, let’s create a definition of success that is sustainable for both our professional career and our personal wellbeing. Here’s how:
1. Discover your personal values
Society has taught us that success is defined by things like money, a fancy car, and a prestigious job title. But in reality, success can mean different things to different people. That’s why it's essential to discover your personal values to determine your unique definition of success. These values will help you carve out not only a fulfilling path but also a worthwhile destination.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out your personal values:
What do I value the most in life?
What does success mean to me?
Will I feel fulfilled after putting my time and effort into this pursuit?
2. Refrain from comparison
Comparison really is the thief of joy. It’s easy to hop onto LinkedIn and get carried away by a plethora of achievement posts. However, we need to remember that everyone is on their own journey and achieving their own definition of success.
Succeeding requires forgoing other people’s beliefs around success. When you catch yourself in this comparison trap, think about your own values as well as your personal and professional mission. Quoting American educator Booker T. Washington, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
3. Seek help from a mentor or professional
It’s helpful to consult someone who can approach your journey in both a forward-thinking and remedial way. A good mentor is one who understands the complexity that comes with striving for success. These professionals keep you accountable for your mental and emotional strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities.
Essentially, this accountability helps you stay on track while preventing burnout. You learn to better recognize your capability and identify thresholds for managing challenging situations.
4. Incorporate self-care
The road to success can be overwhelming. Unexpected challenges and depleting motivation are inevitable. Therefore, it’s important to keep your well-being in check to play the game for the long run. And when things start to get rough, stay grounded and focus on what you can do right there and then.
Purely chasing an idea of success based on someone else’s highlight reel can be harmful to your mental health and self-esteem. Hence, clearly establishing your definition of success is essential for making decisions that support your long-term vision. Ultimately, you’ll reach your destination feeling empowered while striving for a world that supports mental health even for successful individuals.
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