What Drives You to Success?

Ten reasons people are driven to succeed.


“There’s no success like failure,” wrote Bob Dylan, “and . . . failure’s no success at all.” Here are 10 of the most compelling “drivers” that account for the correlation between success and excess.


1. You need to make money – and to make meaning.

“Today’s generation of businesspeople is the first to face a double goal: profit and a meaningful life,” says Caroline Myss, a psychologist and author of the best-selling book Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing (Harmony Books, 1996). “Never before were leaders allowed to have a heart or to ask, ‘Who am I?’ Nobody is immune to this crisis of spiritual seeking. Business has always been the solid foundation of life. But now this rock-hard level of society is finally experiencing its own spiritual cataclysm.”

2. Welcome to the United States of Anxiety.

Today there are more than 3.5 million households in the United States with a net worth of $1 million or more. Between 1983 and 1992, the number of millionaire families doubled. The stock market is skyrocketing to all-time highs; the IPO market offers the promise of instant wealth. But how long will this trend continue? Will you get yours before it all comes down?

3. If you thought climbing the career ladder was tough, try climbing without one.

The end of hierarchy has left people liberated – but also confused. “Up until the 1960s,” says Myss, “the longer you were with an organization, the more respect you gained. Now experience doesn’t count. To get to the next level of success, you need to make a quantum leap, which requires a burst of energy that many people just don’t have.”


4. The “Brand Called You” has a dark side.

Brand management is a tricky proposition. Look at what happens to brands in the marketplace: They achieve prominence and success, but they also receive criticism and suffer from mismanagement. Nike goes from being brand-management darling to being a brand problem child. How would you like that to happen to the brand called you?

5. Work is (still) alienating.

In the early 1900s, factory work was said to alienate dislocated farmers from the source – and the satisfaction – of production. Work today is perhaps no less alienating. “We have no role as workers anymore,” says media consultant John B. Evans. “To be divorced from doing meaningful work, such as raising a family or participating in your community, makes you feel like an imposter.”

6. Mortality has become the new morality.

After age 30, you achieve new levels of professional success and business power. After age 30, you confront your own mortality. Feelings of high accomplishment arrive simultaneously with feelings of great loss. You control your company, you control your department, you control your territory – but ultimately, you control nothing. You confront the biggest fear in your life: the fear of your death.


7. Leadership has become dangerous to your health.

Leaders today feel trapped in a role from which they cannot escape. “People start projecting on you,” says addiction-compulsion specialist Mary Bell. “Sometimes, when you go to a dinner party, the people around you are enthralled by all that you do and say. Everybody’s seducible. Other times, you feel like you’re invisible.” Followers and leaders fall into patterns of helplessness and powerfulness – and wage a civil war through sabotage and mutual distrust.

8. Chaos – if it’s out there, it’s in here.

The world is changing so rapidly and so unpredictably that a product that’s hot one moment will be cold 10 seconds later. At the birth of the Information Age, Marshall McLuhan made a point that’s more true now than ever: If it works, it’s obsolete. Fleeting success is a prescription for insecurity.

9. Your life is one extended report card.

“At the halfway point in your life, a qualified success is subjectively not much better than a gross failure,” says Daniel Levinson, author of The Seasons in a Man’s Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 1978). Either you’ve made it big or you haven’t. You no longer fit into the category called “Shows promise.”


10. You believe that you’ve sold out.

“Whether in the Harvard establishment or at the heights of American business, people feel that they’ve embraced authority and sold out a fundamental aspect of their own soul,” says Jungian analyst Nathan Schwartz-Salant. “They feel they might have been a different person, a better person, if they had gone another route.” You feel the need to justify the choices you’ve made – so you end up wanting to destroy not who you are but who you never became.