The Burden of Success: Why Owning Vulnerability Can Be Challenging

From a very early age, we form an image in our minds of what success looks like. For some, it’s a full bank account. For others, it’s owning a home, starting a family, or getting to travel the world. 

The pressure of success is a topic that touches many lives, regardless of age, profession, or personal ambitions. Whether you’re a student trying to excel in academics, an aspiring entrepreneur building your dream company, or a seasoned professional climbing the corporate ladder, the pressure to succeed is a constant companion. It can manifest in many forms, from the fear of failure to the relentless pursuit of recognition.

While the image of what it means to be successful changes based on who we are and how we’re raised, the reality remains: we form an image of success in our minds—one that can be difficult to let go of, even if we’ve already achieved it.

Image and Success

Success comes with all sorts of rewards—less often discussed are the burdens it brings as well. All successful people project an image of themselves out into the world—and that image takes on a life all its own. Like a lake glittering in the afternoon sun, people see the surface, but they don’t see the reality of what lies beneath. Success and sacrifice often go hand-in-hand. Underneath the five-star veneer are deep waters full of hard choices, doubts, and insecurities.

Consider Jackie Robinson for a moment. When he broke the color barrier to play in the Majors, he carried with him an enormous weight. He felt the need to be perfect on and off the field. In our own lives, we often feel a similar kind of pressure. We want to maintain an image our children can look up to—one that inspires confidence in our coworkers and our clients. The image is important—but so is the reality it’s built on.

Fear of Discovery 

Professionally, we often feel pressured to maintain the illusion of success in all parts of our lives. We worry about what will happen if management finds out about medical issues that might require us to miss work. As we age and slow down, we may feel compelled to hide that fact because we’re worried we might lose out on career opportunities or be passed over for a promotion. There’s a fear of being seen or judged. Maintaining the veneer of success takes on a life all its own.

middle aged woman sitting at her desk smiling at cameraSometimes we’re compelled to maintain the illusion of success at home, while secretly unhappy. Imagine a housewife who maintains the illusion of a successful marriage for the sake of her family and friends. She may stay silent in the face of unhappiness or abuse because the image of success is the only thing holding everything together.

In both cases, a fear of judgment creates the conditions for stress, isolation, and abuse. Even as cracks in their image build up, owning our insecurities and uncertainties becomes harder and harder. Because we are always keenly aware of those cracks—of what’s happening under the surface of that glittering lake—it can make us feel like a fraud, fearful of discovery.

Imperfection as Failure

Many successful people are driven by perfectionism—but perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Perfectionists have a particular way of getting things done. That makes it hard to delegate tasks and share the load. At the same time, it may be difficult for them to admit they’re stretched too thin. Like a pot coming to a boil, pressure builds up until it’s ready to explode.

 Getting Support

It’s tough for anyone to admit they need help, but it’s even harder for people who are successful. If success has left you feeling isolated and afraid of owning your vulnerability, please reach out today to learn more about women’s therapy.