To the world, Katy Perry has it all: fame, success, money, the good life. But her recent admission about battling with “situational depression” over the past year is bound to elicit the question: why? However, by speaking up, she has put the spotlight on the link between success and depression.
The suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade over the past couple of months have already shown that public triumph doesn’t protect you from personal despair. Sometimes, the former feeds the latter.
The higher one climbs up the ladder of success, the more prone one is to face stressful situations and stiff competition. “The successful [people] are always looking upwards. There is no ceiling. Their egos can also be fragile. With privilege comes a sense of entitlement. When there is a setback, personally or professionally, it can really affect them,” says Dr. Shamsah Sonawalla, founder, Trans Mag Well-Being clinic.
It can be lonely at the top. “Thanks to their achievements, super successful people become unrelatable to normal people,” says Nitika Gupta, a psychologist at Mpower. “The attitude of those around them can often be that there is no cause for unhappiness. This can lead to further alienation.”
In the pursuit of success, there is also a risk of getting detached. “They are constantly reacting to external cues, at work, in social situations.
Ironically, they may be hyperconnected to their peers, their colleagues, but not to themselves,” Sonawalla says.
Too much, too soon?
There was a time when career graphs rose steadily. Success wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. Today, hefty paycheques, multi-million dollar funding, and large sell-offs put you in the limelight. But it can all go away just as easily.
In a blog post, Sam Altman, founder, Y Combinator, had written about the menace of depression among startup founders. “Failing is terrifying, and so is looking stupid…A lot of founders end up pretty depressed at one point or another, and they generally don’t talk to anyone about it. Often companies don’t survive these dark times.”
An Indian tech startup founder, who did not wish to be named, found an echo of Altman’s words at the time when his company was up for sale. “I went into a year of depression. We managed to cut our losses and get out, but the sting of failure was severe. There was self-doubt. Was this it? Will I succeed again?”
This feeling of peaking too soon is a by-product of the crazy deal universe that startup founders live in. “When you sell a company, at say, 35, you still have 20-30 good work years ahead of you,” Sonawalla says. “But the concern could be, ‘What if this is the peak? What if nothing that comes after can ever match this high?’”
The need for a routine and to reframe the meaning of success can be your saviors. If you don’t have a plan for what comes after, even after signing the deal of one’s life, you could easily spiral into an abyss.
Make the justify investments
In the pursuit of success, interpersonal relations may have gotten strained, or friendships alienated. This is a costly mistake, say, healthcare professionals.
“Invest in a tight inner circle. When the time comes, you need to be able to turn to people who can be honest with you,” says Gupta.
Yes, men may be good for the ego, not so much for the nourishment of your soul. In a preventive mode, focus on the basics: good sleep, a good diet, exercise, time to connect with yourself, and taking pleasure in the mundane. It’s easy to envy achievers. But is the very thing that they once coveted pushing them into the deep end?