Is Your Success Compensatory Or Vision-Driven?

The business world is replete with stories of individuals who built organizations that became legendary, and that produced wealth beyond most people’s ability to comprehend. Equally common is a subtext that tells the story of how many of these brilliant strategists and tacticians found, at best, their wealth and power meaningless and hollow. At worst, what they created ended up in an orgy of self-destructiveness and hatred toward the community they grew up in.

Many commentators and observers attribute this sad outcome to an obsession with money, for its own sake. For the accumulation of status symbols and figurative trophies signifying their superiority to their peers. Having worked with a number of super-wealthy clients, I think that a quite different dynamic is at play. I call this dynamic the drive for compensatory success. That is, success fueled by someone else’s agenda. At the core of compensatory success is the need to prove one’s worth and value to someone whose approval and acceptance was absolutely essential. So important, that in the best of circumstances, it provided the foundation for building a lasting sense of self-esteem. In the worst of circumstances, the withholding of approval and acceptance, or the judgment of insufficiency, undermines self-confidence and the enjoyment of one’s achievements. If you were never good enough, or never did things perfectly, every time, you will likely spend most of your life trying to prove to others that you are indeed, worthy of their attention and caring. I see this, for example in the inability of many high achievers, to simply accept and acknowledge a compliment. It seems to them, almost embarrassing to be recognized for being good. So they deflect the compliment or give others credit, for what they actually did. The drive for compensatory success, traps people in a futile struggle to get something in the present, that they never got in the past. The only way out of this struggle is to come to terms with the sad and frustrating reality that we cannot re-do or change our past. All we can do is grieve it and get on with the future.

Vision-Driven success is underpinned by a commitment to creating a world peopled by others who share their values and aspirations. It sounds easier, however, than it is to achieve. It requires a vision of what could be, and the tenacity to keep after it. It also requires a clear, unequivocal value system that dictates all important decisions in one’s life. The value system is the filter that keeps distractions out, and guarantees that one stays true to their vision. In almost every situation, the choice to live a values-driven life becomes a viable option, after one has exhausted the temptations of the compensatory life. I don’t think there is any path more challenging than staying true to one’s core values.

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