How’s Your Happy? Overcoming Success Depression

Reaching BIG goals can be the most exciting times, yet, when it was all over, I found myself entering some of the darkest times of my entire life…say what??!!  Y’all heard that right. How was my happy? Nonexistent!  So how do we overcome this Success Depression?

My senior year of college, one of my besties and I decided to embark on training for and running the San Diego Rock’n’Roll Marathon.  To keep us honest and because it is such a great organization, we decided to train with Team in Training in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Now this wasn’t my first marathon; in fact, l had previously run two others and I could not wait for the inevitable “runner’s high” that keeps most marathoners running back for more!  This particular marathon was scheduled to take place in the weeks just before college graduation, and as we got stronger, leaner, faster, and well, MUCH more sober (our long runs were early Saturday morning, so our final semester of college fridays were significantly curbed by this endeavor), we couldn’t help but chat about how awesome that month of June was going to be.  Marathon completion, graduation, then our last summer before official adulting commenced!

We crossed that 26.2 mile marker, celebrated with beers, then headed back to our great college town to welcome family and friends for a week long graduation celebration.  We hosted parties at local bars, a brunch at our home, then walked stage to receive the paper that culminated our four years of growing up.  Such an exciting time, yet, when it was all over, I entered into one of the darkest times of my entire life…say what??!!  Y’all heard that right. How was my happy? Nonexistent!

Interestingly, this particular time frame was not the only time I’ve experienced this “Success Depression.”  I had the same thing after finding out I passed the California Bar Examination, after I successfully made a lateral jump in law firms, and even when I got engaged!  Who would have thought all of these apparent successes would have a gal feeling so down on herself?  If you share in this syndrome, take solace in knowing you are NOT alone.  Ambitious badassladybosses all over the place are more prone to these types of episodes, or ongoing symptoms of depression arising out of success.

So how do we overcome this Success Depression?

Most of us are prone to setting goals for ourselves.  The small goals are easily attainable and give us the confidence to keep moving towards those big hairy scary goals.  A lot of times we think to ourselves, “if I attain this big goal, then I will be [insert adjective here.]”  But once we achieve these big hairy scary goals, and those anticipated feelings don’t arrive in tow, the exact opposite occurs.  

Dr. Raj Raghunathan discusses this phenomenon in his book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?  Raghunathan posits there are happiness traps that highly ambitious, smart, and successful people fall into. “…[R]egardless of how wealthy, famous, powerful, or attractive you are compared with others, the more you strive for superiority, the less happy you will be,” Raghuanathan argues. Alexi Panos also discusses this Success Depression syndrome, in her book, 50 Ways to Yay!  The greater our need for badassery, the lower our level of happiness often becomes.

These books are well worth the read friends, but for purposes of this topic, they present an interesting cause and effect theory with respect to this whole Success Depression Syndrome: we tend to think that striving for and attaining the stars, will eventually replace our insecurities and perceived self-doubt with solid, steadfast confidence.  Low and behold, that rarely happens.  

Regroup. Yes. I am telling you Success Depression is directly correlated to your level of confidence.  But, I’m a super confident person? I set goals and knock them out of the park?  How can I be this accomplished without confidence well in tact?  Don’t confuse adrenaline or drive with confidence my friends.  Confidence is not a goal.  It is not a destination.  It is an ongoing labor of love accomplished through self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-love.  Let me repeat: self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-love. That’s it.  A simple formula to combat your Success Depression.  Sounds easy right?  Think again.  

Schedule some YOU time every week to dig in on reflection, awareness and love.  Meditate.  Have a technology free day where you breath in the fresh air.  Start communicating with other badassladybosses about their self development.  Journal.  Talk.  LIVE. LOVE.  Then come back to those big hairy scary goals you have set, and ask yourself: What? Why? For Who? When? How?  If those answers don’t inspire you, if they don’t inspire your confidence before you even attain them, then maybe that big hairy scary goal isn’t raising your frequency.  Maybe those big hairy scary goals aren’t BIG enough.  Maybe you need to shift your why adjective to something just a little more profound.  

Imagine what kind of world we would live in if your happy was right on more often than not. 🙂

Whitney Stefko is a co-founder of BadassLadyBosses.

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