Just about everybody wants success and everything that comes with it — especially high performers. We all define success differently, but in general, the more of a high performer you are, the more you do and the better you get at whatever you’re doing. Success comes from hard work, and hard work yields more success.

This is typically a rewarding journey; however, there is a trap that comes with being in that mode of creating, developing and seeking success — the “success trap.”

The success trap is something you don’t think about when you’re working toward a goal. You’re focusing on improving the quality for your family and others. As your success increases, you realize you can afford more of the things and experiences that make life more enjoyable. You can travel, help family members financially and take up hobbies. It’s a great feeling to move up in the world. But we can get so wrapped up in that process that we fail to notice when we’re neglecting our own well-being.

So, what are the obstacles that can block your progress on your journey toward success? Here are some of the major obstacles that characterize the success trap:

  • Getting out of tune with what your mind, body and spirit need to remain healthy
  • Trying to take advantage of so many opportunities that you exhaust yourself
  • Helping people so much that you forget how to say “No”
  • Becoming vulnerable to the “takers” around you who give nothing in return

The great news is that you can overcome all aspects of the success trap simply by being self-aware. Self-awareness is a key leadership trait.

McKinsey & Co. found that leaders who are self-aware — those who know themselves or are “centered” — are up to four times more effective in managing change than people who aren’t.

Now, just about everyone believes they’re self-aware, but few are. Researchers have found that only 10 to 15 percent of the people they studied actually fit the criteria of self-awareness. One way to increase self-awareness, the researchers noted, is to seek out feedback from loving critics — that is, people who have your best interests in mind and are willing to tell you the truth.

Here are four ways increasing your self-awareness can help you avoid the pitfalls of the success trap.

1. Be aware of what your mind, body and spirit need

First, your brain needs to be stimulated. This comes naturally for high performers. Self-awareness keeps your brain from becoming overstimulated.

Second, you must recognize signals from your body that tell you you’re doing too much. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met whose health declined as they became more and more successful. They were showing up every day, striving to be the best version of themselves, but they were so busy that they found it difficult to find the time to eat healthy food, exercise and take breaks to recharge their energy.

And third, your spirit is always working toward something bigger than yourself. When you lose sight of that, the other aspects of your life can suffer.

  • Check in with yourself often — many times a day. What do you need more of? If you’re physically exhausted, for example, get more rest, build buffers into your schedule and delegate tasks to others.
  • Remember my “LIFE Optimization” theory — that we live our best lives possible when we focus on LIFE — an acronym representing love, impact, faith and energy. When you focus on those four components of life, your success will follow.

2. Prioritize your goals to avoid taking on too much

As a high performer, your success inspires you to accomplish even more. The more success you experience, the more opportunity to make an impact seems to come your way. When you have a success mindset, you’re constantly coming up with creative ways to make an impact.

Sometimes it’s about investments. Sometimes it’s about new business opportunities. Other high performers see your success and want to partner with you. You start brainstorming with them and realize how much you could build together. But then you stop and tell yourself, “When am I going to have time to do that?!”

If you constantly follow that compulsion to start new projects over and over, you will eventually become exhausted. Being self-aware is critical because it helps you know what you can do and accept that you cannot do some things effectively. With self-awareness, you will know your limits before you burn yourself out doing too much.

  • Realize that your time, energy and other resources are finite. Prioritize your goals. Focus on what’s most important right now.
  • Pay close attention to what you love and who you love doing it with. Prioritize the people and the things you want to focus on.
  • When considering a new project, assess how it fits into your life. Is it something you’ve always dreamed of doing? Is now the right time to pursue it? If not, you can keep it on your list for another time.

3. Set personal boundaries to avoid giving too much

Often, the opportunities to make an impact involve helping other people. Helping others is so rewarding that you begin to help even more people. Altruism is admirable; however, it can get out of control. You can end up helping others so much that it becomes overwhelming.

Self-awareness makes it easier for you to set boundaries and say “No” when helping someone else might overwhelm your own resources.

Years ago, I had a great friend who worked really hard at his job and often worked long shifts. He was handy and could fix anything. As a result, people were always asking him for help with home repairs. One time, he told me he was going to stop at his friend’s house to help him make some repairs in the bathroom. He was sure the job would take just a couple of hours. But the next thing you know, his friend wasn’t helping him at all — he was doing all the work and ended up remodeling the entire bathroom by himself — not just making repairs.

What started out as “helping a friend” became a major and time-consuming project. The friends ended up taking and taking and taking more. Maybe it didn’t start in that mode — but it ended there.

  • Think about how you spend your time. How much of your time is devoted to helping others? Have any of your attempts to help others gotten out of control? If so, at what point in the process could you have set boundaries?
  • The next time someone asks for help, think about how getting involved might deplete your time, energy and other resources that you need to apply to your own work or projects. Offer a specific, finite amount of help, and if the obligation starts to require more, remind the person you’re helping that you have provided the assistance you offered but that you cannot devote more time to the project.

4. Surround yourself with givers; distance yourself from takers

Nothing drains your mental, physical and spiritual energy more than dealing with “takers.” Those are the people who want a lot from you but offer nothing in return. This can be a huge trap. Some people know they’re taking, but others don’t realize they’re doing it. Self-awareness enables you to identify the takers and to take steps to minimize their negative impact on you.

We become vulnerable to the takers when we get so caught up in helping others that we forget to set boundaries that protect our own resources.

Now, sometimes you will give generously to someone you care about deeply, without expecting anything in return. Maybe you help your grandmother downsize into a condo, or you give your sister and her new husband money for a memorable honeymoon. That’s fine, as long as you are aware that this is a priority for you in giving to loved ones, and you don’t expect anything in return.

Self-awareness enables you to identify the takers — and stop them in their tracks — before they take advantage of your kindness and generosity. This is mandatory! If you don’t identify the takers early on, you will end up feeling trapped in a world where you hate what you do — even if it’s your unique ability and was once enjoyable.

You want to love what you do, and you are more likely to accomplish that when you are surrounded by givers. People who give to the world will give to you at least as much as you give to them. When you offer to help them remodel a bathroom, they will help you with three similar projects.

What I’ve found is that as more opportunities arise, the less self-aware we tend to be about maintaining our own mental, physical and spiritual well-being. When that happens, it becomes easier for takers to take advantage of us.


Being self-aware requires that you exercise discipline to focus on your priorities, check in with yourself often and take care of yourself.

The key is to get better at navigating the course in front of you. Over time, you will get better at recognizing the obstacles and avoiding the traps that can come with success.