Enjoying Success But Unhappy…How Come?

One of my duties as a mentor at PPM is to listen to problems faced by executives and discuss causes and solutions. The most frequently voiced complaints are feelings of exhaustion, unease and disconnection in regards to their jobs.

These are people who have worked very hard and have achieved good positions. Most of them reached middle management positions at the age of 31 to 41.

This situation faced by some executives is nothing unusual. It is as though it is a disease as it is quite common. You don’t have to be a manager and wait until you are old to be unhappy. Anyone can have this feeling despite significant achievements in their life. How does this happen and is there a way to work through it?

A sense of achievement and self-esteem is important. Working hard and being successful is one way to achieve this. If the person lacks respect in him/herself, he/she will tend to hide it or look for compensation. For example, one executive compensated by over-eating after being berated by his boss.

I asked him what he felt after eating such delicious food. The executive said he felt happy because he could eat comfortably without having to think about cholesterol or obesity. Whereas many people of his age would watch their diet to avoid fat and steer clear of high cholesterol, blood sugar, uric acid and triglyceride levels.

It must be acknowledged that this executive is usually consistent in maintaining his health. So on that day, he did not felt great as an employee but did feel in excellent health. The feeling of losing in one field should be overcome by hard work to succeed in that field, not by looking for success in another field (compensation).

Feeling successful at work is a mechanism to cope with the feeling of losing in another area. The more successful we are at work, the more dignified we feel. At least, success makes us believe we are valuable.

The problem is, the more successful we are, the more demanding are. Like a high from drugs where initially just a small dose is needed to reach a level of ecstasy, so it is with success. At first just a little effort is needed to achieve a high on success.

And like drugs, as time goes by the feeling of success fades. Then we feel we have to do something more extraordinary and so work harder. It goes on and on. Eventually there comes a time when we feel we have worked hard and achieved much but are mired in unhappiness.

In fact, these compulsive high-achieving workers are generally the stars of a company. They are high performers. However, that status makes it difficult for them to ask for help. Sometimes, they themselves do not realize they need help. All this time they get rewards, bonuses and other incentives due to their compulsive behavior.

Compulsive workers often exhibit the following behaviors: they love talking about work; they spend most of their time at or for work; they do not have time or only a little for an outside interest; they have very little time for friends/loved ones; they find it difficult to relax, even on days off and holidays.

If they work hard for a project and are successful, they feel elated, only to later be left with a feeling of emptiness. If, on the other hand, the plan fails, they become distressed, even upset at the people they believe are the cause of their failure.

A company’s environment can also contribute to an employee’s feeling of worthlessness. For example, working in an environment that depreciates teamwork, where most people work individually and only care about their own interests and businesses. Or someone is respected because of his/her position because, for instance, he/she is the big boss, not due to his/her achievements.

This situation will worsen with the division, both physically and psychologically, between subordinates and superiors, or between executives and non-executives. In this type of company, decisions are usually made by the top management, and only very limited information is shared with the employees.

If you work at a company that treats people as replaceable resources, one that has no interests other than profit, you must be cautious with any change in the way you perceive yourself as a valuable person. Many people are accustomed to adverse treatment and deem it normal.

Actually, self-esteem can only be affected by “big” things happening in the working environment. However, small things, both positive and negative, can accumulate and eventually affect the extent to which we feel important and valuable as human beings.

If a person expects work to give them all the appreciation they need, they are in for disappointment. They will become a subject of pity to those who determine their achievements, promotions, salary and other things.

Sooner or later, this person’s self-worth will be determined by others. This is not healthy because self-worth should come from within. If a person gets caught up in hard-work and success, it is only because they let it happen.

Such a person should tell himself that: it is human to make mistakes and be imperfect; I have the right to enjoy life; I am more than my achievements; I can change; I can allocate time for myself and I can enjoy it; my main responsibility is self-development because the more I develop, the bigger my contribution to the company will be; I deserve respect regardless of position or achievement.

Have a nice change, hard work, be successful and happy!

*Published in Supplement The Jakarta Post– November 14, 2007

Ningky Risfan Munir blogDr. Ningky Munir, is lecturer in the Business Management Post-Graduate Program, PPM School of Management, Jakarta.
NKY@ppm-manajemen.ac.id

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