Achievement addiction: bane or blessing?

While addiction to success can help people pursue their goals, it should not become an obsession that deprives them of the very joy of life

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Achievement addiction, also known as success addiction, is a term used to describe people’s intense drive to succeed and constantly achieve their goals. In a fast-paced organisational environment it helps employees to stay productive and highly result driven.

“Employees who are highly motivated to achieve are more productive, as they are driven to work hard and accomplish their goals,” feels Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows. Focus on achievement can lead to a desire to continuously improve and excel, which can result in better performance in the long term, ensuring success.

Another positive trait is developing a sense of accomplishment. This not only boosts the confidence of employees, but also keeps them focused. Emmanuel David, senior HR leader, explains, “The drive to achieve can be a powerful motivator, helping individuals stay focused and motivated to pursue their goals.

“Achievement brings success and success brings recognition, promotions, bonuses and incentives,” says Ravi Chopra, former group CHRO, Hero Motors Company. In a high-stakes environment, such as academia or the business world, this drive to succeed can be particularly beneficial.

“High levels of motivation may sometimes create a feeling of ownership, which acts as a hindrance in fulfilling responsibilities when things fail to go according to one’s will.”

Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows

Such a drive is definitely a positive trait, as it helps a person work hard and persevere in the face of challenges. However, there can be many negative consequences too, if it becomes all consuming.

Poddar points out, “High levels of motivation may sometimes create a feeling of ownership, which acts as a hindrance in fulfilling responsibilities when things fail to go according to one’s will.”

An organisation sometimes has limited resources and it has some limits to which it can extend and provide them the resources required to do a task. Hence, it’s not possible to provide the employees with everything they require to do their tasks. The reasons could be anything, like an economic slowdown or sometimes a manager doesn’t agree to do so. In the given situation, a high achievement orientation can feel confined and it leads to frustration in them.

“Being productive and goal driven is a passion for some people. However, any kind of passion that reaches a level of insanity can be counter-productive.”

Emmanuel David, senior HR leader

“Employees with high achievement orientation seek attention and validation from others. However, when things go wrong due to any reason, they develops this self-doubt and starts questioning their own worth,” she adds.

“Being addicted to achievement is like falling into an activity trap,” says David. This addiction can be satisfied only as long as the person is working, has a job or is playing a specific role. Once the person is out of work, there’d be no way of feeding this addiction. Such people will not be able to enjoy the peace and relaxation that comes with being out of work or retired. They would want to keep doing something or the other, as they’d be restless.

“Being productive and goal driven is a passion for some people. However, any kind of passion that reaches a level of insanity can be counter-productive,” David further explains. He gives an example of the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film is based on a true story of prisoners of war (PoW) in 1943, who are forced to build a railway bridge over the Kwai river in Burma and Thailand. The main character, Col Nicholson, is the commanding officer of a group of British PoW and becomes obsessed with completing the task of building the bridge to a high standard, as instructed by the Japanese Army. However, Nicholson’s dedication to the project ultimately leads to his own demise when the Allied Forces blow up the bridge, and he is killed while trying to protect it. Throughout the film, Nicholson is shown as being so strongly focused on the task at hand that he loses sight of his primary mission, which was to fight against the Japanese.

Just like Col Nicholson, sometimes professionals become so focussed on and engrossed in executing the tasks assigned that they end up totally forgetting the mission and purpose of their lives.

“One way to counter this phenomenon is to create a clarity of purpose,” suggests David. He also adds that the purpose must be strategic, practical and aligned with the company’s vision. For instance, people with big institutions such as the TATA Group, always have this core belief in their mind to create and contribute towards India’s core sectors. That explains the existence of TATA Steel, TATA Power, Indian Hotels Company Limited, TATA institute of Fundamental Research and many more. It was the passion of the Group, which was used along with the right strategies and practical approach to create an impact in the business world.

“It is the sense of recognition and pride, which drives people to achieve more and gives rise to an ‘I-can-never-fail’ attitude. Often, I have seen people failing to realise that this has become their obsession. They fail to take feedback, and hence, end up making wrong and hasty decisions. This may sometimes lead to burnout and downfall.”

Ravi Chopra, former group CHRO, Hero Motors Company

Hence, one’s passion combined with clarity of purpose can result in a more positive outcome.

Chopra opines, “It is the sense of recognition and pride, which drives people to achieve more and gives rise to an ‘I-can-never-fail’ attitude. Often, I have seen people failing to realise that this has become their obsession. They fail to take feedback, and hence, end up making wrong and hasty decisions. This may sometimes lead to burnout and downfall.”

Achievement addiction also causes people to lose sight of the enjoyment and fulfilment that can come from their pursuits. David agrees that it is important for individuals with achievement addiction to recognise the importance of finding balance and enjoyment in their endeavors, rather than solely focusing on the end result or outcome.

“Social media is one of the leading reasons that instigates people to obsess over their achievements”, observes David. “I have seen people getting worked up if their posts do not get enough likes. Similarly, when achievement is highly valued, it can create an unhealthy competitive atmosphere within the company, leading to negative emotions, envy, resentment and even sabotage,” adds David.

On social media, you’d see them comparing their journey to the other person while constantly asking if they’re better than them. On the other hand, they are always in the competition to win over the other person. Hence, it is very significant to win over your former self as you’re in competition with yourself only and try to improve yourself first.

Poddar agrees, “Achievement addiction can be emotionally and mentally exhausting.” It results in work-life imbalance as such addicts may have difficulty setting boundaries. They may sacrifice their personal lives in pursuit of their goals. This also affects their overall well-being.

Hence, it’s important for such people to have strong emotional intelligence. This can help them manage every aspect of their life, both personal and professional.

David explains a manager’s role in managing his addiction and adds that if one really wants to achieve, you need two drivers in your life- excellence and compassion. Given the situation of Covid, a compassionate leadership could be the right key to manage this obsession and turn it into the right passion.

“Identifying the strengths and needs of such success addicts and then channelising them in the right direction is yet another way to handle this growing addiction,” opines Poddar. Managers can give the right resources to their high achievement oriented employees, and if required, can help them redirect their goals. This would ensure that the work energy  is going in the right way.

In conclusion, achievement addiction can be both a blessing and a bane. It can drive a person to succeed and reach their full potential, but it can also have negative consequences if it becomes an obsession. It is important for individuals to find a healthy balance between their passion and obsession, in their pursuit of success. They need to remember that personal fulfilment and enjoyment are just as important as achievement of their goals.

1 COMMENT

  1. Well articulated. Nevertheless, the metrics of achievement should definitely be set as a vision for self-growth , otherwise complicity sets in. You need Mentors who act as a mirror/friend who are able to decode the blind spots on time. Otherwise, one will get consumed by the incessant competition which is unhealthy in the long run.

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