It’s Lonely at the Top
The success of our friends and colleagues can be bittersweet. While a part of us might be happy for them and want to praise the accomplishments of others, we may also feel jealous – particularly when we feel that we deserve these accolades as much as (or even more than) they do. Not achieving the success we think we deserve can feel like an undeserved failure. But suddenly finding ourselves in the position of being more successful than those around us may also leave us feeling that perhaps our success is undeserved as well.
We asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Part of you feels bad when you are more successful than your peers,” and the resulting data indicated some clear differences among the various personality types.
While the difference was trivial in some instances, as between Prospecting and Judging types (with only a 2% difference), the disparity was far greater in many other cases, such as between Feeling and Thinking types (with a 19% difference). Which personality types feel most uncomfortable with success, and how do their Roles and Strategies come into play? We explore these questions below:
Diplomats (47% agreeing)
Of the four Roles, Diplomats were most likely to agree with the statement “Part of you feels bad when you are more successful than your peers.” The empathetic nature of Diplomats may make it difficult for these personality types to ignore any inequities, understanding all too well the hurt that comes with envy. They neither like to cause those feelings nor be the target of them, and they may go out of their way to rectify these issues themselves, attempting to “share the wealth.” If these efforts fall through, Diplomats may have difficulty accepting the often fickle character of success.
Turbulent Mediators (INFP-T) and Turbulent Advocates (INFJ-T) agreed with the statement the most of any type (both 54%). Both deeply sympathetic towards others and keenly aware of the spotlight that comes with great success or great failure, Mediators and Advocates make a habit of seeing all sides to a situation, good and bad. Even these fair-minded, private personality types only barely agreed in the majority though, showing that one’s success is not always another’s loss.
Explorers and Sentinels (33% and 32%)
Explorers and Sentinels were in accord with each other in their agreement on the issue of discomfort with their own success, mostly accepting that success is a product of their efforts and environment, and deserved. Explorers take a pragmatic but opportunistic approach to life. They accept that being in the right place at the right time, and with the right people, plays a significant part in success, and is its own effort – though with a dose of luck. But these personality types might also feel that while the wheel of fortune may have placed them on top, it could turn again at any time.
The Explorer type that agreed least – indeed the one to agree least of any type, including among the Analysts (see below) – was the Assertive Entrepreneur (ESTP) (14%). Supremely confident and also unlikely to examine the details of anything too closely, Entrepreneurs ride whatever wave brings the most excitement. These are extraordinarily positive personality types who revel in success and failure alike. They are unlikely to cut themselves short just because they fly higher than their peers.
Sentinels, for their part, may feel that they have paid their dues through hard work and commitment rather than luck or bravado. If others have not achieved the same level of success, it is only because they have not put in the necessary effort to do so. Firm believers in personal responsibility, Sentinels certainly encourage others to achieve their goals, but they’re unlikely to feel bad about their own achievements.
Analysts came in with the lowest level of agreement, at least on average. They often interpret their success as a product of their own ingenuity and drive, as the logical consequence of their own intelligence, and therefore well-deserved. Any lack of success among their peers may be (as an Analyst sees it) due to lack of ability or effort, and equally well-deserved. This same expectation can hold them back, though – Analysts can easily ignore other important factors in success, like cooperation and flexibility, limiting their opportunities in unexpected (and seemingly unfair) ways.
Constant Improvement and Social Engagement (45% and 40% agreeing, respectively)
Turbulent types – those governed by the Constant Improvement and Social Engagement Strategies – were more likely than Assertive personalities to feel uncomfortable with achieving greater success than their peers. While their self-criticism can sometimes propel them to greater heights than others (due to their relentless focus on overcoming their perceived faults), Turbulent types can also be susceptible to “impostor syndrome,” the inability to accept their own accomplishments as valid. But neither agreed in the majority, suggesting that whatever their discomfort, they know they work hard for their accolades, and those efforts should and do bear fruit.
Constant Improvers are more prone to feelings of insecurity due to their Introversion. Whereas Social Engagers tend to have more opportunities to compare their own efforts (and the results of those efforts) against their peers, the relative isolation of Constant Improvers might cause them to have a more distorted view of how others are doing. Constant Improvers often also wilt under widespread attention, good or bad. They are torn between wanting desperately for their efforts to be acknowledged and being terrified of having to deal with the consequent expectations. They don’t always feel bad for others in these cases, but it’s hardly pleasant to be held up in front of a crowd.
Confident Individualism and People Mastery (32% and 27%)
The Confident Individualism and People Mastery Strategies, on the other hand, tend to be more secure in their successes. Although this self-assurance can sometimes manifest as an unwillingness to push themselves to reach their potential, these Assertive personality types tend to worry little about their status among their peers. Once again though, the Extraversion of People Masters makes them more likely to seek out their peers than Confident Individualists, which gives them a more accurate picture of their success relative to others’.
Confident Individualists, while not feeling the same pangs as Constant Improvers at the prospect of recognition, are hardly attention-seekers. They won’t feel as bad, but being singled out and made an object of discussion is not their idea of a good time. But they don’t seek out public successes either, preferring more local and personal accomplishments. Confident Individualists are comfortable with themselves and know that their success is the result of their own effort, independent of anyone else, and therefore deserved and just.
Although “success” is a relative concept – a successful businessperson may seem like a failure to an artist, and vice versa – the feeling of surpassing those with whom we once shared common ground can be an odd sensation. Aside from dealing with the feelings of envy and jealousy that such heights can inspire, our own insecurity can sometimes cause us to project those feelings where none exist.
It’s no wonder, then, that many people are quick to rationalize their successes as earned, regardless of the circumstances. For if we begin to feel that our successes are as much the result of accident as our hard work and effort, then we may start to feel as if the control we have is an illusion, subject to the random whims of fate.
What about you? Do you ever feel bad about being more successful than your peers? Do you feel bad for them, or is it something more personal? Let us know in the comments section below!