The Unexpected Side Effect of Success
Picture this: You’ve been working tirelessly towards a major goal. It could be anything – a promotion at work, completing a marathon, finishing a significant project, or even retiring after a long and fruitful career. You’ve given it your all, and finally, the day comes when you accomplish what you’ve set out to achieve. The feeling is euphoric, and it’s time to celebrate.
But then, the confetti settles, the applause dies down, and there’s a strange emptiness that creeps in, like someone pulled the plug on your happiness hot tub.
Weird, isn’t it?
You’ve just achieved something monumental, something you’ve likely spent countless hours, maybe even years, striving towards. And yet, instead of feeling on top of the world, you’re left with a nagging sense of melancholy.
Welcome to the unanticipated houseguest, the “post-success downer”.
Stay with me, because we’re about to delve into this curious phenomenon and understand why it crashes our party of achievement. More importantly, we’ll look at how to deal with it and get back to savouring our victories as we rightly should.
Buckle up, it’s about to get interesting.
Introduction: The-Post Success Blues – What’s the Deal?
Success is a wonderful thing. It’s a culmination of hard work, persistence, and often a fair share of overcoming obstacles. We’re conditioned to chase it, strive for it, and above all, enjoy it when we finally achieve it.
So why then, after reaching the summit of our goals, do we sometimes feel a sense of emptiness, an unanticipated downer?
This surprising (and frankly, pretty rude) reaction to success is referred to as the Post-success downer, clinically known as The Arrival Fallacy, is a psychological phenomenon that hits after a major accomplishment.
It’s an unexpected wave of melancholy, a strange sense of purposelessness that arrives right after you’ve achieved a long-standing goal. The very moment when you should be doing your victory dance, you might instead find yourself contemplating the meaning of life or, more disconcertingly, the lack of it.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh, that’s just me being odd,” guess again! This experience is more common than you might think. People across different fields, from artists and scholars to businesspeople and athletes, have reported feeling this emptiness post major success. And no, it’s not a sign that you’re ungrateful or that you don’t know how to party. It’s a very human, very normal reaction to a sudden, significant change in your life circumstances.
Throughout this article, my aim is to not only further define and explore this “post-success downer,” but also share some insights on why it happens, its impacts, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
Understanding the Post-Success Downer: When the Champagne Tastes Flat
Before we try to make sense of the post-success downer, let’s see what the psychological research has to say.
While the term “Post Tenure Depression” has been used predominantly in the academic world to describe the blues that often follow the achievement of tenure (a pretty big deal, by the way), similar experiences have been noted in various other realms of life.
Think about the so-called “post-vacation blues,” or that funny feeling of melancholy you get when you finish a truly engrossing book or a binge-worthy TV series (I know some people are still getting over that post ‘Game of Thrones’ void?).
These are all instances where the anticipation or the process was delightful, but the end just left you feeling…empty.
But why does achieving a significant goal, an event that is presumably joyful and satisfying, result in this feeling of emptiness or a sense of loss?
Well, it turns out, as humans, we’re wired to strive, to pursue, to chase. It’s the chase that gets our adrenaline pumping, the anticipation that makes our hearts flutter, not necessarily the catch itself. This might sound counter-intuitive, but as you’ve surely heard before, sometimes the journey can be more fulfilling than the destination.
And when the chase is over, when we have caught our proverbial rabbit, there’s a void left behind. We lose the thing that kept us going, that gave us a purpose, and in the vacuum, the post-success downer sneaks in. It’s the unanticipated emotional hangover that comes after the intoxication of our pursuit.
Just when you thought your biggest worry would be deciding where to hang your shiny new medal, or which Caribbean island to visit with your bonus!
But remember, this is not about you being your own ‘party pooper’. It’s about understanding and embracing the full human experience, highs, lows, and everything in between.
Causes of the Post-Success Downer: How Did the Party Pooper Get in?
So we’ve realised that the post-success downer is like the unanticipated plot twist in our victory story. But what causes this strange phenomenon?
Why, when we reach what we thought was the ‘happy ending’, do we suddenly feel like we’re stuck in a never-ending philosophical debate about life, purpose, and happiness?
Here are some potential party-poopers:
1. The Psychology of Achievement:
The human brain is a marvel, but sometimes, it can be a bit of a drama queen. You see, our brains love the thrill of the chase. The dopamine rush associated with pursuing a goal can be addictive. But once we reach the finish line, the dopamine dries up. The regular hits of happiness chemicals we were getting are suddenly gone, and we might feel a little… deflated.
2. Societal Pressures and Expectations:
Our society places a lot of emphasis on achievements. We’re often defined by our successes, our trophies, our titles. This creates a massive build-up of expectations. We imagine the moment of success will be like crossing into a promised land of eternal happiness. But real life isn’t a fairy tale, and when reality doesn’t match up to our expectations, it can be a real downer.
Once I read a quote: It’s the biggest tragedy in life when you get everything you ever wanted and you still feel miserable.
3. Identity Crisis:
For many of us, our goals aren’t just something we want to achieve. They’re a part of who we are. We identify ourselves with our goals, our work, and our pursuits. “I’m a writer working on my first novel.” “I’m an entrepreneur building my start-up.”
Now, what happens when the novel is published, or the start-up becomes a successful company? Suddenly, the identity we’ve held onto for so long is no longer applicable. This can cause a crisis of identity and contribute to the feeling of emptiness.
4. The Purpose Vacuum:
This is a big one. When we’re working towards something, it often consumes us. Our routines, our thoughts, and our lives revolve around it. But once the goal is achieved, it leaves a gaping hole. There’s suddenly a lot of free time and mental space, and we’re left scrambling, trying to fill it up. As fun as it may sound, you probably already know, it’s not.
Now, before you start thinking that success is a no-win situation, take a deep breath! Understanding the causes of the post-success downer doesn’t mean we should stop setting or achieving goals. It just means we need to approach our achievements with a bit more awareness and maybe a pinch of philosophical salt.
So, as we delve into the impacts of the post-success downer in the next section, keep in mind: the party isn’t over, we’re just changing the music.
Impact of the Post-Success Downer: When the Spotlight Fades
After the celebrations have ended and the spotlight fades, you may find yourself left with dealing with this strange post-success hangover. A feeling of disappointment that can linger. It’s important to acknowledge this feeling so that we’re not caught off-guard by its effects on our lives.
1. Mental Health Effects:
As one might expect, the post-success downer can take a toll on our mental health. Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or even anxiety can be common, not to mention the confusion that comes along with these feelings when you’re “supposed” to be feeling joyous and satisfied. It’s like being served a salad at a steakhouse – it just doesn’t feel right!
2. Relationships and Social Interactions:
Our relationships may also bear the burden of our emotional turmoil. You might find yourself less enthusiastic about social interactions, possibly because it’s difficult to explain to people why you’re feeling down after such a significant achievement. After all, how do you tell your best friend that the promotion you both celebrated feels less like a victory lap and more like a victory… collapse?
3. Future Goal-Setting and Self-Esteem:
The post-success downer can also impact our future aspirations. If achieving a goal has left us feeling like a deflated balloon, we might be hesitant to set new goals for fear of experiencing the same letdown. This apprehension can hinder our progress and dent our self-esteem.
4. The “Imposter Syndrome” Effect:
And then there’s the non-identical twin of the post-success downer, the infamous’ impostor syndrome.’ After a significant achievement, it’s not uncommon to feel like a fraud, like you don’t deserve your success, which can further feed into the post-success blues.
Feeling a little blue yourself after reading all of that? Don’t.
Remember, the goal (pun intended) is to shed light on these impacts so we can recognize them when they arrive, not to scare you away from ever throwing another victory party.
Up next, I have some practical tips on managing this emotional rollercoaster ride, and possibly even preventing it from overshadowing your achievements.
Practical Tips for Managing and Overcoming the Post-Success Downturn:
Alright, now that we’ve had our philosophical moment, let’s get practical. We know the what, why, and impact of the post-success downer, but how do we deal with it? How do you bring your spark back?
Here are some handy tips:
1. Recognising the Symptoms:
The first step in combating the post-success downer is recognising its symptoms. This means being honest with yourself about your feelings. If you’re feeling a sense of emptiness or lack of fulfilment following your achievement, it’s crucial to acknowledge these feelings. You might be experiencing loss of motivation, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, or a general sense of dissatisfaction. These are all signs that you might be grappling with the post-success downer. The sooner you recognise these signs, the better equipped you’ll be to address them.
2. The Mindful Approach:
Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment. This means not constantly obsessing over the future or dwelling on the past. When pursuing a goal, try to enjoy the process, not just the end result. Celebrate the small victories along the way. This will help ensure that your happiness isn’t solely tied to one significant achievement. It also allows you to appreciate the journey itself, reducing the impact of the post-success downer.
3. Self-Care is Key:
After achieving a big goal, give yourself permission to rest and recharge. This can be as simple as taking a few days off to relax, a massage, a Netflix binge, or diving into that book you’ve been meaning to read. It’s important to recharge both physically and emotionally to prevent burnout and combat the feelings of emptiness that can accompany a major achievement.
4. Maintain a Balanced Life:
Diversifying your happiness can help prevent the post-success downer. If you’ve poured all your time and energy into one specific goal, achieving it can leave a void in your life. By maintaining a variety of interests and activities, you can ensure that you have other sources of fulfilment and joy that extend beyond your primary goal.
5. Stay Connected:
Staying connected with your friends and family can provide you with emotional support and an outlet to express your feelings. Sharing your experiences with people close to you can help alleviate those feelings. Moreover, the people who care about you can provide a different perspective and remind you of your worth beyond your achievements.
6. Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind:
Your goal might have been your focus for months, maybe even years. But remember, it’s only a part of your life, not the whole of it. Keep the bigger picture in mind. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and each goal is just a milestone, not the finish line. There are always new experiences to have, new things to learn, and new goals to set.
7. Seek Professional Help:
If your feelings of emptiness or sadness persist, it might be beneficial to seek help from a mental health professional. Finding the right therapist or a coach can help you navigate these complex feelings and can provide strategies to help you manage your post-success downer.
Remember, there’s no shame in seeking help.
These tips will help you handle the post-success downer effectively, but remember, everyone is unique. What works for one person may not work for another. Listen to your feelings and find what works best for you.
It’s all about turning that victory party into a victory lifestyle.
Preventing the Post-Success Downer: Let’s Keep the Good Times Rolling
Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could just avoid this emotional party crash altogether? While there’s no certain way to completely prevent a post-success downer, there are strategies we can employ to significantly lower the chances of it bursting your bubble or at the very least, lessen its impact.
Let’s look at how we can be proactive:
1. Set Realistic Expectations:
Setting lofty, fairy-tale-like expectations for what life will be like after achieving your goal can set you up for a fall. Remember that success brings its own set of challenges and responsibilities, and life won’t suddenly become perfect. Understanding and accepting this reality can help prevent feelings of disillusionment post-success.
2. Re-Frame Success:
Rather than viewing success as a destination or an end-point, try to see it as a journey or a process. This way, achieving a goal doesn’t signal an ‘end’ but rather the beginning of a new journey. This shift in perspective can help fill the post-success void.
3. Multi-Goal Approach:
Having more than one goal at a time can keep your sense of purpose alive even after one goal has been achieved. Of course, balance is key here. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many goals, but having a few can ensure that there’s always something to strive towards.
4. Celebrate, Then Evaluate:
After achieving a significant goal, take time to celebrate, but also take time to evaluate. Reflect on your journey, the highs and lows, and what you’ve learned. Then, consider what’s next. Having a forward-thinking mindset can help you transition smoothly from one goal to the next, preventing the onset of a post-success downer.
Remember, the aim here isn’t to bypass all negative emotions related to success. That’s neither possible nor healthy. The goal is to better prepare for and manage the emotional terrain of the post-success landscape. This way, even if the post-success downer hits, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it and keep the victory party going!
Conclusion: It’s Your Party.
So, what’s the takeaway here?
That success is a double-edged sword?
That the light at the end of the tunnel might just be a sad, little LED bulb?
The real takeaway is that success, like life, is complex. It’s a mixture of the good, the bad, and the confusing. It can lead to joy, satisfaction, and sometimes, a bit of an unexpected downer.
But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from setting or achieving goals. Goals give us a sense of purpose, direction, and fulfilment. The post-success downer, as we’ve seen, is not a sign of ingratitude or a character flaw. It’s just a sign that we’re human, with a complex range of emotions that don’t always line up neatly with societal expectations.
But now that you’re aware of this, you can handle it better.
So, here’s to success, in all its messy, unpredictable glory.
Here’s to celebrating your victories, navigating the downers, and continuing on our journey, with a little more wisdom, a little more kindness towards yourself, and a lot more preparedness.
And remember, it’s your party – you’re in charge!
Before you head off to conquer your next mountain, take a moment to reflect on how you can apply what you’ve learned here.
How will you approach your next big goal, knowing what you know now?
How will you manage or even prevent a potential post-success downer?
If you’re feeling brave, why not share your thoughts or experiences with the post-success downer in the comments?
You never know who you might help by sharing your story. Because remember, if the post-success downer is the party crusher, then understanding, empathy, and shared experiences are the life of the party.
So, go on, keep setting those goals, keep throwing those victory parties, and remember, the only guest you have to impress is yourself. Cheers to that!