Super Successful…But Still Stressed: No Matter How Successful You Are In Life, You Need To Find A Balance

One perk of being a psychologist is the access. Not access to celebrities, or access to money (Definitely not!). I mean access to the real stuff: people’s hopes, fears, opinions and stories.

As a psychologist in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I’ve been granted a ton of access, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Mostly, I’ve learned how far appearances can be from reality.

Many of my clients are people you’d want to be. Before turning 30, they’ve started a company, and now it’s well funded. Or, they’ve sold a company, and now they are well funded.

Or, they’ve gotten into the best grad school, the best internship or the best company in their field. They’re rising stars in finance, design or technology.

Most impressively, some have achieved the unthinkable: roommate-free housing in the cutthroat Bay Area renter’s market.

You would think, given their success, that they would all be happy. Right?

Well, they’re not. At least some aren’t. Like you and me and everyone else, they have issues. And I don’t fault them for that.

Because contrary to what we tell ourselves, professional success won’t automatically make you happy. So, even though someone has an oh-so-intimidating LinkedIn profile, they may still struggle with things like...


High standards can take you really far. But high standards can also weigh you down, especially when they are a mask for fear -- fear of failure, of not measuring up, of being wrong, of disappointing others.

When you can’t adjust those standards, it can really interfere with your work and personal life.

Social anxiety.

The phrase “social anxiety” may bring to mind people who are shy, awkward or socially inept. But they usually are not. Some of the most socially anxious people come off as charismatic and confident.


This is a huge problem. You can’t be happy if you don’t have friends. And yet, I see people trying to do it all the time. They move here from far away, and immediately throw all their energy into work, and none into their social lives.

They feel guilty about taking an evening off, and when they do, they’re so fried, they just want to veg out with Netflix. And the older they get, the harder it seems to make friends.

Professional disillusionment.

Even professional “success” can be a trap. There’s the VC investor who hates pulling the plug on companies, killing their founders’ dreams. The burned-out postdoc who loves his work, but feels crushed by debt. The burned-out lawyer who hates his work, but is chained to his condo mortgage.

The creative director who gets bullied and harassed, but feels guilty about even complaining, because other people tell her she’s at the best company in the world.

Relationship problems.

People feel squeezed because they can’t make enough time for their partners, or their partners can’t make time for them. Or, they bring their stress home, and can’t be fully present.

Single-person problems.

And, it’s not much easier being single. Even when people make time for dating, they stress about finding a partner, about overcoming all the anxiety that comes with dating and sex, about opening up and achieving emotional connection, and about balancing short-term exploration with long-term commitment.

Depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

These aren’t separate from the other problems; they often result from them. With success comes stress, which puts people at risk for mental illness. No one is immune to it.

In short, the psychological problems extremely successful young people have are often the same ones that most any young people have.

Now, I’m not saying that success isn’t worth pursuing. If you’re a go-getter, go get it! But don’t buy into the idea that achieving success will automatically make you happy.

Happiness won’t show up once you’ve made it; you have to cultivate it in parallel with your career. Spend time making friends, taking trips, exploring the world and taking care of yourself. When success shows up, you’ll be a happier person for it.

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