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Success is bad for your health – now confirmed!

An article in the weekend newspapers finally seemed to scientifically confirm something that I have suspected for some time: being ambitious, competitive and high-achieving can be very bad for your mental health.

The reasons for this are clearly and logically explained in the excellent article by Oliver James.

In a nutshell, if you judge your self-worth in terms of money and material wealth, and if you lose these things or don’t meet your targets for gaining them, this can create a sense of failure, leading to a downward spiral of disappointment, depression etc. Once you have been successful, the loss of your money and status symbols is far more painful than failure to acquire these things in the first place, so success breeds dependency on more success.

As a business owner, I am acutely aware of how fine the line is between success and failure. A 10% reduction in sales can easily turn a profit into a loss in a low-margin business.

This has confirmed for me that the ability to detach yourself from the day-to-day operation of your business is crucial, for two reasons:

1.  to be able to think and act strategically (which I have always known)

2.  to allow a buffer to exist between the problems of the business and your personal life (without burying your head in the sand)

To avoid judging yourself only in terms of business and material success, maintaining interests outside work are crucial. For me personally, maintaining health and fitness is key because of physiological and well as psychological benefits (e.g. release of endorphins). Also, reading, music, quality films and TV, cooking and of course spending time with the family are essential.

But, my biggest tip for how to avoid business/work-induced depression is, when things get really bad, ask yourself: “What is the worst that could happen?” Then ask yourself the follow-up question: “Why is that so bad?” And keep asking that until you get to the real heart of the issue. I think you will find that the really important things (your relationships and health) are unlikely to be damaged significantly, no matter how bad things get in the material world.

Please post a comment to let me know how you maintain your sanity when your business is going through tough times.

3 Responses to “Success is bad for your health – now confirmed!”

  1. I found your article really interesting. I’ve been running my own business since May 1999 (helping companies import and export)and the following have helped to keep me sane.

    1. Acknowledging whether you are a technician, manager or entrepreneur and once acknowledged, work to your strengths. Everyone wants to be thought of as an entrepreneur, but truly few of us have the ability. Most people are technicians (I am for example) and I work based on that, and consequently meet my expectations and am happy.

    2. Stick to your core business and let other professionals help with other necessary jobs, in my case, accounting, website, sales and marketing, design work for publications, etc. It actually costs less than doing it youself (as long as you have excellent suppliers) and reduces the stress and time taken to complete jobs that are outside your core business.

    3. Positive thinking. When things go wrong, just say out loud to yourself (or write it down somewhere), what you need to put the problem right. And it always works. I’m not sure why, but it always works. I was once given an example of positive thinking to try out and I pass it on. When driving the car, and needing to park, just say out loud to yourself, “I will find a parking space” and repeat it until you find a parking space. Since I started doing this, I have never failed to find a parking space, even in London before Christmas.

    I hope this helps.

  2. Andrew Gray says:

    Maria- many thanks for your comments. I agree that most (90%?) of business owners are not entrepreneurs (sounds as if you are a fellow E-Myth fan). I will try the parking space trick!

  3. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestions you make in the body of your article, I am afraid that it is dangerous to take Oliver James article too seriously. If you read the findings of Glaser et al on the subject of IQ and adolescent depression, you will find that James has made rather more than a simple leap too far in his article towards the usual left-leaning Guardian agenda, and entered into the realms of the very subjective thoughts of his own.
    By the way, IQ is now believed to be somewhere around 50~60% inherited (Saunders 2010) but this is a hotly disputed area.
    I think that it is also a leap too far to conflate any link between adolescent IQ and depression and the complex subject of entrepreneurialism.
    I do endorse your suggestion to ask the question “What is the worst that could happen?” – it is something I have done over many years as both an employee and then an entrepreneur and it has always helped me to keep a sense of proportion and eye on what is really required.
    The other advice I would give business owners through good times and bad, is don’t believe you know it all; constantly seek advice and never stop learning. Business is both science and artform and it needs to be studied both formally and informally. The other advice I would give is don’t give in to banks’ bullying and never allow your home as security – don’t place yourself in a position where you may force yourself to make a bad decision when the going is tough because you can’t afford to loose it all – it may not be the wisest decision.

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