Why being addicted to achievement blinds you to your self-worth

Know your worth

If you have a high drive to succeed as a leader, you will most likely ask yourself what makes a great leader? Or, how to develop effective leadership skills? Unfortunately, responses to these questions might not go deep enough, particularly if Imposter Syndrome is an issue for you.

When examining if you have the same qualities as successful leaders, it can be highly beneficial to understand what drives you to succeed as a leader. And how that could be impacting your leadership effectiveness.

Succeed as a leader with the benefit of my hindsight

I was driven to succeed. I was continually given the next complex and challenging work assignment. Each success led to a new challenge (you can read more about me here).

When you are in your twenties and early thirties, being a consistent and reliable performer can be a quick path to promotion. It certainly hastened my journey up through the ranks.

However, I did not realise my need for achievement was becoming an addiction.

I would experience a high when I achieved a target, but that high did not last. And, I was unaware feeling good about myself was utterly dependent on my next achievement.

It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. My bosses expected me to achieve, so I did. I was used to pleasing my parents, so I repeated the pattern. It became a toxic cycle of conditional self-esteem.

Succeed as a leader

Unfortunately, Imposter Syndrome was also a familiar friend. After winning a scholarship to attend a Women’s Leadership Forum at Harvard Business School, I remember sitting in a room with over fifty of my work colleagues. I felt inadequate and wondered how I got there. I felt I didn’t deserve it. Worse still, I had these same feelings when I attended the forum with people who paid to attend. I had jumped through twice as many selection hoops, and I still felt inadequate.

At one time, my Chief Executive told me he thought I had good instincts, except when I verbalised my self-doubts. On the other hand, my feelings of inadequacy could come across as me trying to prove I was the most intelligent person in the room. The real story was; I was trying to convince myself.

I tried to be compassionate towards others. However, I always expected so much more of myself. I was self-critical, always judging what I could have done better.

So, why would I share this with you?

I did succeed as a leader, but maybe not consistently. And, it came at a high personal cost. A cost I hope other people do not need to experience.

My turning point was when I realised self-esteem and self-worth are not the same. Unfortunately, this was well into my career. By then, I had experienced a lot of unnecessary emotional pain, and parts of my life were what could only be described as dehydrated. It was full of purpose but lacking in pleasure.

Being exposed to Dr Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion was life-changing.

Neff says, ‘when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means you realise that suffering, failure, and imperfection are part of the shared human experience’.

‘Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.’

It is about accepting you are only human. But, self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence or … wait for it … self-esteem.

Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion is available when you fall flat on your face or embarrass yourself. It isn’t dependent on external circumstances – you can always call on it. And, it is necessary if you want to succeed as a leader consistently.

Instead of feeling sick in the pit of your stomach when you make a mistake, exercising self-compassion allows you to acknowledge your failings with kindness. You no longer need to hide feelings of shame.

Succeed as a leader

Even better, Neff and her colleagues’ research shows self-compassion has the same benefits as self-esteem without its downsides. Self-compassion helps create the conditions for positive growth so you can leverage your strengths and improve. In comparison, self-esteem draws you toward your weaknesses and a more negative response.

Higher self-compassion levels are also associated with:

  • greater life satisfaction
  • emotional intelligence
  • social connectedness
  • learning goals
  • wisdom
  • personal initiative
  • curiosity
  • happiness and
  • optimism.

Developing your self-compassion helps you succeed as a leader because it enables you to remain emotionally calm and accept feedback about how others experience you.

Whereas focusing on your self-esteem leads to defending your ego and missing an opportunity to improve your leadership.

Accept the feedback by acknowledging many people struggle with the same thing and then forgive yourself.

Being self-compassionate about the feedback you receive is only the first step. You still need to take action in response to the feedback.

When you accept the feedback and take action, you will discover self-compassionate people also experience less:

  • self-criticism
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • fear of failure and
  • perfectionism.

However, it takes practice for self-compassion to become a habit. It involves making an effort to practise goodwill towards yourself. To notice and lessen the impact of negative emotions rather than avoiding them to protect your self-esteem.

Do you want to get off the roller-coaster of addiction achievement, succeed as a leader and experience a more stable sense of self-worth?

Succeed as a leader


Begin by exploring the self-compassion exercises on Dr Neff’s website.

If you are open to it, you might like to try her guided meditations or mindfulness meditations on the headspace meditation app.



The more we talk about this issue, the less likely it is to get in the way of people succeeding as leaders.

Start by finding opportunities to be kinder to yourself today. You are only human, after all.

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