The pitfalls of high achievers when facing stagnation

In a world that often celebrates high achievers for their remarkable accomplishments and unwavering determination, it’s easy to assume that they have it all figured out.

But the truth is, even the most accomplished individuals face their fair share of setbacks and moments of being stuck in their professional lives. 

As someone who’s taken an ongoing journey of self-discovery and adaptability, I’ve witnessed and experienced these common mistakes that high achievers tend to make when they find themselves in a professional rut.

As I explore these common challenges, it’s important for me to clarify that I approach this topic with deep empathy and a lack of judgment.

I’ve personally confronted these obstacles, both as a professional coach and on a personal level, and I understand the complexity and nuances that we high achievers face in our journey.

Here are some of the most common challenges when faced with stagnation.

1. “The Missing Pieces” Syndrome

High achievers are known for their relentless pursuit of success. However, when they hit a wall, they tend to fixate on what’s missing rather than appreciating their existing achievements.

The constant craving for more can lead to dissatisfaction and a never-ending cycle of striving for unattainable perfection. So, it’s crucial to shift focus towards self-acceptance and gratitude for what’s been accomplished instead.

2. The Comparison Trap

Competitiveness is often a hallmark of high achievers. This drive can serve as a double-edged sword, as it makes them more susceptible to unhealthy comparisons with others. 

This comparison mindset can breed feelings of scarcity, making it difficult to recognise their unique strengths and talents. To overcome this, they should learn to embrace their individuality and appreciate the diverse and unique paths of success.

3. Blind to Their Own Brilliance

Ironically, high achievers often struggle to see their own strengths and talents as clearly as those around them. The imposter syndrome can creep in, making them doubt their abilities. In these moments, it’s essential to seek feedback from trusted friends, mentors, coaches or colleagues who can provide a more objective perspective on their talents.

4. External vs. Internal Focus

When high achievers find themselves stuck in their careers, they tend to focus on external changes and what they can do differently. While action is vital, they often neglect their internal resources, such as resilience, drive, and determination. Reconnecting with these exceptional internal qualities can be the catalyst for overcoming stagnation.

5. The Frayed Relationship with Failure

High achievers are accustomed to success, and occasionally an encounter with failure can be a devastating blow to their confidence. Over time, they may develop a fear of failure, which hinders their willingness to take risks. Remembering that failure is a natural part of the journey, and a valuable teacher is key to regaining confidence and moving forward.

And then the big pitfall that we do not like to admit to.

6. Status and Perception

High achievers often tie their self-worth to their status and what others think of them. The fear of stepping backward or sideways in their careers is seen as a failure in the eyes of society.

Significance is a profound psychological need that drives many high achievers to excel in their careers. It’s the desire to be recognised, respected, and admired for one’s accomplishments and contributions.

The pursuit of significance can be a powerful motivator, pushing individuals to reach new heights and make a lasting impact on the world. However, this drive can become a double-edged sword when taken to the extreme. Therefore, it is crucial to remember that true success is about personal fulfilment, not external validation.

High achievers are often drawn to the idea of significance like moths to a flame. They seek to leave a mark on their respective industries, communities, or even the world at large. The allure of significance can be incredibly intoxicating, propelling them to work harder, innovate, and strive for greatness.

While the pursuit of significance is a noble endeavour, there’s a tipping point where it can become problematic. When individuals become overly fixated on their status and how they are perceived by others, it can lead to a range of negative consequences.

The key is to strike a balance between the pursuit of significance and the quest for intrinsic fulfilment. It’s important to recognise that significance doesn’t have to come at the cost of personal well-being and contentment. True success should be measured by the alignment of one’s actions with their values and passions, rather than the external validation it brings.

High achievers can benefit from redirecting their focus toward the intrinsic joy of their work, the positive impact they make on the lives of others, and the personal growth and learning that comes with every endeavour.

By finding this balance, they can enjoy the fruits of their labour while maintaining a healthy and sustainable approach to their professional lives.

In my own journey, I’ve learned the significance of finding that equilibrium between external recognition and internal contentment. It’s a lifelong pursuit, but it’s one that ultimately leads to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven career and life.


Of course not all high achievers have the same identical traits and therefore not the same pitfalls. You might recognise some of them, and not so much others.

However, I simply want to highlight that even high achievers are not immune to professional stagnation, but they possess the resilience and determination to break free from its grasp.

By recognising and addressing these common mistakes, they can shift their perspective, celebrate their unique qualities, and regain the momentum needed to continue their journey towards success, meaning and purpose-driven work.

Share this post:


Ready for a new mindset and professional peak performance?