Why Does Success Feel Like Loss?

Have you ever been a part of a cause, organization, or environment that is experiencing a large amount of success?  Have you ever wondered why after the warm, fuzzy emotions wear off, you sometimes feel sad or empty?  


I’ve been thinking about the concept of adaptability and it’s effect on leaders.  If you are in a growing and changing environment like I am today, you begin to see the effects of growth and change on your team and in you as a leader.    Most of us want to be a part of an organization that is trending up.  It’s exciting to experience growth, hear stories of life transformation, accomplish key goals, and see all your hard work and effort hit the bottom line in a positive way.  There is an energy, warmth, and confidence in growing environments.  In many ways, all the months and years of hard work begin to pay off.  Your dreams are realized.  It truly is a sweet season.  


However, there is often an overlooked downside to success and growth.  It’s not the kind of thing that we like to talk about much in meetings or conferences but I wonder how it has an effect on the emotional and psychological health of our leaders.  Success, growth, and positive movement come at a price.  It’s a hidden cost because it’s a by product. When it is time to pay the price, there may be feelings of emptiness that may surprise you or catch you off guard.   


You may have heard the saying “Healthy things grow and growing things change.”  This is truly a fact of life.  My kids are growing up and changing.  We are all adjusting to this reality with new rhythms, eating patterns (they are a band of locusts), and work schedules, etc.  The organizations that I am a part of are growing and changing in so many great ways as well.  All of the change in my life has caused me to have to adapt to my reality.  You may be having to adapt to your reality also.   


I love the definition of “adaptability.”  It's “the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions” or “the capacity to be modified for a new use or purpose.”  Wow, do you see it?  Not only might the conditions, externally, be changing around us and causing us to adapt, but also, we are being “modified” internally as well.   This modification is for a new purpose.  New things are exciting.  However, most of the time, in order to start something new, we have to end what is current. 


I remember when my oldest was graduating high school.  I thought it would be cool to put together a slideshow of him growing up through the years.  As a family, we were so excited for him to finish school and accomplish a great milestone.  He finally made it!  So, I took a few hours and assembled a folder of pictures.  Then I began to watch the slideshow with music.  You know what happened next, the tears began to flow.  I’m was so happy for him, and I was really sad at the same time.  This is the kind of grief I am referring to with success. The victory hurts. Graduation is a great accomplishment.  It is also a remembrance of what it took to get there.  


When we experience change, even in a positive way, something is happening to us as leaders and parents on the inside.  The truth is we are experiencing an ending.  I think this reality causes us to feel levels of grief that we aren’t quite ready for.  Nothing truly gets to stay the same when people and organizations are growing and changing.  If I’m honest, this hurts a bit.  


Life is an exchange.  In order to capture our dreams of the future we must say goodbye to some of the realities of the past.   The fact is, change makes us grieve.  There is a bittersweetness to our success and growth.   


Grief is weird.  We all grieve differently and experience grief in different ways.  I don’t think grief in success is the same as grief in tragedy. However, there is a loss that we experience.  Grief is confusing and chaotic, yet, it demands to be experienced.  Take time to grieve in success.   


If you are in a successful environment and you are experiencing growth, be prepared to experience some grief.  Have a good cry and shed a tear of gratitude for the blessings God has given you.  Get a good night’s sleep and then go after the dreams that have been stirring up in your soul.  Embrace the loss and remember what it took to get you there.  


If you are experiencing grief in success, remember these three things:


  1. Grief is meant to be experienced versus to be avoided.
  2. If you try to avoid grief, you only compound it and extend it.
  3. Grief is never over but the pain of the loss diminishes over time.


Why does success feel like loss? When we are in leadership, we try to put our feelings to the side.  You can’t.  Grief demands to be experienced.   


I love what King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes.  He says, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity….A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A Time to grieve and a time to dance .” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4).    When we are experiencing grief in success we do both.  We laugh and cry.  Embrace it all.  Know that your feelings of loss are real and a natural part of success.  


I believe that our best days are before us…not behind us.  We all need a little encouragement, wisdom, and help from time to time.  We can’t accomplish our goals in isolation or always on our own.  We need each other.  Remember, you are not alone. It’s time to thrive.  Let’s do it together. Click here to set up a Discovery Coaching call.