How to Keep a Successful Career from Managing You

Success copyDo You Know How to Handle Success?

If you’re like most high achievers, you aim for greater success in your career whether it’s a specific job, promotion, or role. Yet we’ve all heard of gifted stars spiraling out of control when they had seemingly everything going for them. The fact is, being cast in the spotlight can be unnerving. Research shows that sudden success in the workplace is even more stressful than divorce, often leading to paralyzing anxiety and a deadly drop in performance. While the final outcome is unpredictable, you can regain your equilibrium by addressing internal stressors that are under your control.

Coping with the Stresses of Success

Typical sources of stress for successful performers include a dramatic rise in workload, responsibilities, and the politics of dealing with others including a fickle audience. The key to remaining productive when you get a big break is how you respond to these demands. Here are three areas where strategies can help you cope under extreme circumstances.


To a large extent, your self-perception will dictate how you feel about success. For example, performers who view their talent as “fixed” are more likely to become anxious and disoriented in the face of validation from others. In contrast, individuals who see their abilities as open to change are better prepared to assume the demands of stardom. How do you alter your self-perception? First, avoid overly positive statements (e.g., “I’m amazing”), as these conflict with your beliefs and reinforce a negative self-view. Instead, reframe your success as a series of small goals that require problem-solving skills. Mistakes are inevitable. However, they are a chance to learn, not a measure of your ability.


Believe it or not, making decisions, such as deciding which movie to star in or how to interpret a new role, is one of the most stressful parts of success. Fortunately, you can reduce the number of decisions by establishing daily routines for exercising, eating, sleeping, arranging your belongings, and setting ten-minute breaks for activities that you find interesting, such as crossword puzzles. This last routine is extremely important because it helps to replenish your energy more than activities that are simply fun or relaxing (although these aren’t mutually exclusive). It also steers you away from unhealthy activities to handle the stress of success, such as recreational drugs.

Motivational Style

While there are benefits to being an optimist like seeing success as a fantastic way to reach for the stars, staying positive when you’re juggling multiple work demands adds a layer of stress for those performers whose motivational style focuses on avoiding danger, fulfilling responsibilities, and minimizing losses—in other words, defensive pessimists. Both types of performers can succeed at reaching the same goal. The trick is to use the style that feels most comfortable to you. A skeptical pessimist, for instance, works best by thinking about what might go wrong and keeping danger at bay, whereas a sunny optimist eagerly seeks out opportunities, believing that adequate preparation is enough for things to work out.

Obviously success, let alone stardom, is not a given in this profession. It’s also true that all successful performers experience high levels of stress at various points in their careers. The difference between those who mange sudden fame and cope in healthy ways with its ongoing pressures lies in your ability to establish a sense of internal control—even if you’re being hounded by the paparazzi!

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