You’ve been working hard to master a new job or to perfect a new skill. You’ve put in the long hours and loads of effort and you’ve finally made it. You’ve hit the pinnacle. You’re at the summit. But … making it to the top doesn’t really feel how you expected it to feel. In fact, you feel a little, well, empty inside.
Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve achieved a goal that you’ve been working on for a long time and now you’ve actually achieved it you can’t help but ask what’s next. Or maybe you’re at the end of an important project but feel none of the original passion or zest that you had when you first started. This feeling has been dubbed Summit Syndrome and it is actually more common than you think.
The sneaky passion assassin
Last week I had a session with one of my coaching clients, a guy called Dave*. Dave is financially independent, happily married with two children in their early twenties and runs a very successful consulting business. But much to his own dismay (and confusion), Dave isn’t happy.
“I don’t know why but I just don’t have the energy or passion that I use to have. To be honest I feel like just throwing everything in and I have no idea why,” he told me.
The more we spoke, the more obvious it became that while Dave had been so focused on building his business, paying off the mortgage, putting the kids through school and ensuring his financial security, he had actually been neglecting the most important person in his life - Dave.
I asked him to write down all of the activities that give him richness and joy in his life. We soon saw that his list had nothing to do with money or power or success within the workplace. Dave’s favourite activities were fishing, walking his dog, pottering around the garden and learning new skills.
“Great,” I said to Dave. “When was the last time you engaged in any of these activities?”
Dave’s face went blank.
“Months, maybe even more than a year ago.” He responded. Dave’s sinking shoulders and body language said it all.
I explained Summit Syndrome to Dave, a term that was coined by George D. Parsons and Richard T. Pascale in their Harvard Business Review article.
Typically, Summit Syndrome creeps up on extreme over-achievers, including many executives and senior managers. It tends to afflict the most aggressive strivers —the people who flock to investment banks and start-up businesses who thrive on new challenges. Initially, they love the challenge and excitement of their work, but then find themselves flat-lining once they believe they have reached their pinnacle. They feel lost, unenthusiastic, apathetic and distracted. Summit Syndrome tends to affect high achievers who master a new job or skill, then lose their bearings and question their purpose.
Summit Syndrome is different to the more-familiar ‘crashes’ or ‘overloads’ that can occur during a fast climb up the corporate ladder. It is not caused by intolerable workloads and can in fact happen many times throughout a career.
So, what can you do about it? Summit Syndrome needs to be tackled head-on and most importantly, with an open mind. All over-achievers have a ‘winning formula’– so to bring back some enthusiasm and joy, the chances are it probably needs to be re-invented. But how? To get you started, here are six tips to help you regain your bearings and help you align what you do (both at work and in your personal life) with what is important to you:
1. Write down what makes you good at your job.
With our natural negativity bias, sometimes it can be really hard to focus on the good things in our lives. For this reason, taking time to remember the things that you are really good at doing in relation to your job is very important. When you have a look at what you do well and acknowledge why you’re important to your business, project or team, it can often reignite that sense of accomplishment and passion you had when you began working so hard in the first place.
2. Think about what you now want from life.
We often continue to work towards goals that hold no meaning for us. Our values and aspirations change, but we haven’t paid attention and adjusted our goals accordingly. I recommend taking time every few months to seriously consider what you want from your life and what will make you happy. What are the simple activities you can do on a regular basis that make you feel happy and content?
3. Don’t shy away from delegating.
I know, I know – nobody will do as good a job as you will, but by delegating tasks you’re not just showing trust and faith in your team, you’re also freeing up time to pursue and develop other aspects of your career that you may have previously neglected.
4. Keep learning.
There is always more to learn, whether it’s within the business arena or in one of your hobbies or passions outside of work. Maintaining an avid interest and enthusiasm for learning helps you to stay engaged and avoid that ‘nothingness’ feeling that can occur at the end of the project. Constantly set new challenges and activities that stretch you.
5. Write your eulogy.
It sounds morbid, but it actually works. In their HBR article, Parsons and Pascale describe how one investment banker tackled Summit Syndrome by drafting his own eulogy and describing both his life and what he meant to others. By examining his life he was able to get a wider view of his accomplishments and add meaning to his professional goals. It’s a clichéd saying but it is very true, no one on their death bed has ever said “I wish I had sent more emails or spent more time in the office”.
6. See a coach or a careers advisor
Just like you go to a mechanic when your car is making a funny noise and you get the air-conditioning technician to pay you a visit when your split-system starts smoking, you really should see an expert when your career or professional life begins to feel a little ho-hum. A good performance coaches or a career advisor will know the science behind why you’re feeling the way you are as well as the best ways to get you back to your energetic self. Just remember to check the credentials of any expert you choose and make sure that their coaching style suits your learning style. There’s nothing worse than a cup of tea and sticky bun-style coach being matched up with a deadline-driven investment banker who wants a little less conversation and a lot more action.
And remember – prevention is always better than cure so if you’re feeling a little flat, fatigued or flaccid, take some time to reflect and try and figure out why. See you at the summit!
- Reference source:Crisis at the Summit, George D Parsons and Richard T Pascale
*Name has been changed to protect identity.