Updated: Mar 18
How successful do you really want to be? I recently watched a 3-part Netflix series on tennis legend Naomi Osaka and really wasn't expecting what I learned..
Some of her most notable feats include:
1st Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles
Since 2018, has won in 4 consecutive years
1st Asian player to be ranked world no.1
Recognised by Time 100 most influential people in the world for activism
….all absolutely incredible but what blew me away was who she is, how human she is, and how despite being a master of your craft and having world-wide recognition, being at the very pinnacle bears similarities to being at rock bottom.
Here are 5 rewards of success that most of us aren't aware of when powering to the top.
Ugly Success Reward No 1: Loneliness
Very often, the higher you go, the smaller your inner circle becomes. True friends and even family members are few and far between for most of us and even less so for ultra high-achievers.
Outstanding performers begin to reduce their circles, the more successful they become as a defence mechanism and to distance themselves from those they can’t trust.
Their values change compared to the people around them while standards change and judgement of others can kick in.
This can all result in a struggle to relate to ‘regular’ people and creates deep insecurity and isolation.
Ugly Success Reward No 2: Competing With Your Worst Enemy
While watching Naomi’s story, another dark side of success that comes with high-achievers was clear to see. The pressure and anxiety of constantly performing at the very highest of human ability, to not only impress the world but to reassure yourself that you are not a fluke, nor in decline, is mentally and physically exhausting.
When you get to the top, you realise that your most fierce competitor is taunting you from the mirror. Yes, other masters will come along and test you but it’s the voice inside your mind that is your sternest competitor.
It takes tremendous character, strength, resilience and focus to stay on track and avoid distraction, numbness or procrastination to silence the inner critic and consistently be a champion.
Ugly Success Reward No 3: Your Life, Outsourced
The ultra-successful in any field are so focused on the present, having to show up with 1000% commitment and determination, they have no mental space to project for the future or dreams.
(Notice if the opposite is true for those who haven’t yet achieved their goals. They worry much more about the future and forget to live in the present.)
While this extreme focus helps not to dwell on the past, it doesn’t give much room to truly celebrate and appreciate the present and on a personal level, many things in life end up getting outsourced to someone else, including the little things such as where to eat out, how to spend a free afternoon or time with the family. These often get delegated to an assistant and the lack of personal involvement can be felt by relatives and friends.
Your own life becomes impersonal because you are no longer taking care of the details.
“Think about the future instead of being stuck in the present.”
- Naomi Osaka
Ugly Success Reward No 4: Redefining Success
Every time you level-up, the definition of your context, life and goals all get redefined. When you become a champion at a global level, what does your definition of success become?
Most masters at this point are so committed there is no choice but to pursue higher levels of mastery and push the boundaries of what’s mentally, physically and emotionally possible.
This is a very high-risk game because the margins of achievement become smaller and smaller, harder to see and more arduous to reach.
While that challenge is very real, the positive side is success is personal and can be redefined in any shape or form one wishes. This is a get-out-of-mental-jail-free card we all have access to when the time is right, although some masters just don’t know it - it’s not part of their being.
Ugly Success Reward No 5: Identity
Mastery normally entails being the pinnacle of excellence at one particular skill your entire existence. What happens when you stop? Sometimes it's through choice while other times it's mandatory, due to injury or other.
It's common for elite athletes to go into a personal crisis because they are no longer doing what they've always done. Their unique ability has become who and what they are.
If you are not doing or being what you've always done or been, then what are you?
For some, this moment is devastating and for others, it's an opportunity and new beginning. Whichever it is, it's another dilemma of being ultra-successful and must be confronted.
Naomi Osaka truly impressed me but it wasn’t because of her unbelievable tennis success. What really stood out was:
She comes across as sensitive, reflective, a deep-thinker and aware of her values
She is multicultural and openly proud of her Black-Asian / Japanese heritage
She is truthful and uses her notoriety as a platform for change, actively supporting important social issues eg Black Lives Matter
She is vulnerable and shares her own mental health challenges and depression
She is so professional, disciplined and aware that she stopped playing to focus on family and health
She is courageous enough to confront, overcome her challenges and seek help where needed
She is aware she needs to slow down to speed up
She is such a powerful woman and role model for not just women, but all of us, across many fields and she is constantly pushing the boundaries at work and in society.
PS If you are a leader and are struggling with any of the issues mentioned, let's have a conversation.