Beware of the curse

The greatest things in life can also be the worst.

Sophocles said, "Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse."

In Essentialism, author Greg McKeown talks about the "success paradox" and it's a clear illustration of something great turning into a curse. Here's how he defines it:

Phase one. We have clarity of purpose, enabling us to succeed in our endeavor.

Phase two. When we succeed, we gain a reputation as a go-to person, and we are presented with increased options and opportunities.

Phase three. When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts as we get spread thinner and thinner.

Phase four. We become distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution.

When an author writes a book that took three years in solitude to write and helps them break out into the world as a "Domain Expert on X," everyone will want to talk to them about X. Now they're getting invited to give TedTalks, appear on podcasts, and write columns for The New York Times. With each appearance, they become a bigger name and more people want to hear from them. Naturally, this leads to more invitations and the cycle continues.

Gone with the wind are the mornings of five-hour writing blocks and week long research retreats. They're famous now! They have obligations to their fans. They have to make money.

But giving TedTalks isn't what helped them achieve "success." It was being alone with their keyboard in the still small hours of the morning writing one word, and another one, and another one, and over again 60,000 times. But since they haven't been able to research or write at all since their book came out, they've got nothing else to go on. Maybe they've written a few blog posts here and there, but nothing close to the quality of their first book.

Now that they're pressed for time, they cut corners on their next book. They don't research as much, they don't think critically about the data and their implication, there's no clear organization structure--the second book is a joke.

That is the Paradox of Success.

Being well-researched and thinking critically about their first book lead them to write a smash-hit. But the success that followed prohibited them from working hard on their second one. They became distracted from what would "otherwise be [their] highest level of contribution."

It wasn't intentional. They weren't distracted by the limelight. They were just doing what they thought they had to do and said "yes" to everything.

Winston Churchill said, "You can never tell whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck." I think you can never tell whether good luck may not after all turn out to be bad luck.

Beware of the curse.


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