How is it that people crash and burn when it seems like life is going so well? Especially amongst many Achievers when it seems like they’ve figured out the answer to success, diving deeper into their life reveals they are typically facing periods of anxiety and/or depression. The oscillation between these two extremes can best be represented by what I would call an “egocentric pendulum,” where the rod swings back and forth between hubris and despair.

Despair is a feeling of hopelessness. It’s when your business isn’t going the way you want, relationships aren’t progressing in the right manner, etc. You feel like you don’t have any control over the situation and you don’t know what to do or where to go. The byproduct of prolonged periods of despair is depression.

Hubris is the opposite; it’s excessive pride. It’s the season when you’re “crushing it.” You feel invincible, no one can stop you, you’re in full control and YOU are the only one making it happen. For the Achiever, it’s that feeling of “don’t get it my way because you’re only going to slow me down.” Hubris can be much more difficult to point out and can often be mistaken as a positive trait. Yet, there’s a drastic difference between hubris and self-confidence. Self-confidence still allows room for humility, gratitude, and appreciation of others; hubris does not. The pitfall of hubris is anxiety.

Both of these extremes aren’t healthy for an individual. The more drastic the swing, the greater the swing effect. It’s why the most powerful individuals often times have the largest falls from grace. The two are interconnected with each other.

So how is it that we separate ourselves from hubris and despair? The answer is to begin with the axis.

The one similarity between the two is that they both revolve around YOU. 

Despair — I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am hopeless.

Hubris — I am the best. I am invincible. Everything falls on my shoulders because I’m the only one who can get it done right.

The two exist in tandem with each other. It’s very rare for an individual to exhibit hubris without falling into despair and vice versa.

I read this quote recently from a friend and author, Dr. Shawn Jones, whose life mission is to help physicians and medical professionals care for themselves. He says;

“The hero is mythic in American culture … The role of hero is one that is all too easy to love. When that happens for physicians, the action of the story can then begin to revolve around them, rather than center on the patient, the person whose ultimate good the physician seeks. If physicians see their role as more about being strong, famous, remembered, good, smart, or religious, they risk beginning to serve themselves.

Therein lies the paradox of Luke’s words, ‘Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.’ The very characteristics that tend to make people good physicians are the very things that make them more susceptible to burnout. It is a haunting irony.” — Finding the Heart in Art, Dr. Shawn Jones

I love this quote because it’s a fresh reminder that greatness isn’t a byproduct of our own doing. The end result when actions are made out for ourselves is pride and despair. 

Greatness happens when you’re aligned with something bigger than yourself. The only way to prevent the pendulum from swinging back and forth is to replace the concept of the pendulum altogether. If we remove “You” from the axis and replace it with a bigger picture at play, it becomes much more than your own personal success and failures.

Align yourself with something bigger

Part of me has to believe there’s something bigger at work. I’ve already experienced my moments flying too close to the sun only to have my wings melt off. I’ve also had the isolating moments of hitting rock bottom and feeling helpless and confused. 

It hasn’t been until I’ve wrestled with finding my own identity in something bigger, a greater narrative at play, that those moments have become fewer and farther in between. 

I don’t profess to have the right answers, nor will I ever. Yet I do know what doesn’t work, at least for me. And when I have built my identity upon my own ego, my own accomplishments, and my own successes I always know what the end result will be: hubris and despair.

Live for something bigger. 

If you don’t know what that is outside of yourself, maybe that’s the first place to begin questioning.

Seek and you shall find.