Why do so many people, businesses, marriages, and even entire empires fall? We’ve probably heard the proverb “Pride goeth before a fall” but could the answer really be that simple? Arguably, all other vices could fall under the umbrella called pride, and if pride really is at the heart of humanity’s greatest ills, then it is, by that measure, the most destructive power in the world.
Obviously we’re not talking about the kind of pride a mother feels for her child, or the pride you feel for your country, or the pride you experience when your team wins a big game. We’re discussing the kind of pride that keeps people blinded, stuck, and isolated.
The kind of pride that prevents them from experiencing lasting success. People have trouble reaching goals and pursuing dreams for one (or many) of the following pride-related reasons:
• They are too prideful to risk appearing “stupid.”
• Pride convinces them that they’ve already done enough—they experience a sense of entitlement.
• Their pride causes them to blame others (or their circumstances) for their lack of success.
• Prideful people buy into a scarcity mentality—“In order for me to succeed, you must fail.”
These are a handful of ways pride keeps people stuck where they are. But successful people know that doing the crazy thing—even if that means being humble enough to drop everything and begin again—is a winning formula for success.
1. Embrace Vulnerability: Don’t Be Scared of Looking Stupid
The line between fear and pride is nearly imperceptible. At the heart of pride, is the fear of looking stupid. Pride convinces people to feel justified in quitting because, for prideful people, approval is sought at all costs—even at the cost of success.
Prideful people like to appear as if they have everything figured out. They are terrified of being wrong or, worse, they are afraid of appearing vulnerable. These fears put them on very dangerous ground, because people who have been captured by this category of pride won’t ask for help, they won’t ask questions, and they don’t want to do anything to challenge the status quo.
To overcome this type of pride, one must understand that vulnerability is a good thing. It inspires us to seek continual learning, and, most important, it grants us the courage to change.
Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, says, “Vulnerability is not weakness. . . . [It’s] emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. . . . Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Brown continues, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
2. Remember: Work Pays in Dividends of Success
Pride causes people to experience feelings of entitlement. They expect maximum results from minimal effort and throw their hands up in the air when things don’t immediately go their way. Well, news flash: the world owes you nothing. This is a hard reality to swallow in a world plagued by patterns of entitlement.
No amount of effort spent today will excuse us from the necessary work of tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for working smart and maximizing effectiveness and efficiency. There is danger, however, in feelings of entitlement that lead to whining or self-pity when efforts seem to go unnoticed and/or don’t lead to immediate results. I love this quote from Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Have you ever had a lazy coworker? Or spent any amount of time around someone whose favorite hobby was complaining about how the universe was out to get them? It’s horrible—there’s no better description than that. People who let pride drag them down to that type of thinking or behavior are guaranteed to lose friends and opportunity in the process.
On the other hand, have you ever had a coworker who had an amazing work ethic? Or spent a significant amount of time with a person who was upbeat, grateful, and optimistic? These types of people are refreshing to be around.
In fact, it’s hard to wish anything but the very best for these types of people. It’s easy to find yourself invested in their success and eager and willing to help them along the way. This is the kind of behavior you want to embody. You’ll gain friends, mentors, and opportunity along the way.
Combat prideful feelings of entitlement by rolling up your sleeves, expressing gratitude and cheerfully getting to work.
3. Take Responsibility for Your Life: Don’t Blame Others
The art of ownership is a dying one. Everyone wants to point the finger somewhere else. Pride that comes from blame is dangerous, because it causes people to feel justified in their inaction. After all, it’s not their fault, because nothing ever is. Here are a few examples:
• “She got the raise instead of me because she is a suck-up.”
• “He’s successful because his parents were rich. I’m a failure because mine were poor.”
• “People like her because she’s cool and pretty. I’m all alone because I’m not.”
In each of the previous scenarios we see how blame enables people to feel justified in staying trapped where they are. In these vignettes, people allow their circumstances to keep them stuck where they are rather than take ownership of the things they can control and move forward.
If you’ve experienced a real tragedy in your past, I’m genuinely sorry. But remember, you didn’t suffer a tragedy, you triumphed over one. You can now make the choice to turn that triumph into even greater triumphs as your life moves forward. Staying in the past is blessing no one. It only makes you miserable and, worst of all, it completely suffocates your potential.
You can begin to break free of this kind of pride, by always taking ownership of yourself. In the book Good to Great, legendary business consultant Jim Collins uncovered what it takes for a company to be great. After five years of colossal research, Collins and his team of researchers found something unexpected.
The data overwhelmingly concluded that the greatest companies had what Collins called “Level 5 leadership.” He related that such leaders “embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.” According to Collins, “Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.”
On the other hand, the less successful companies had leaders who “often did just the opposite—they looked in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results.”
Overcome blame and prideful excuses by taking ownership of your life.
4. Embrace Abundance: Don’t Validate Your Success by the Failure of Others
Pride often manifests itself in an insatiable desire to be the very best, no matter the cost. People who have fallen victim to this kind of pride measure the validity of their own success by how much more successful they are than others.
• Do you feel justified in stepping on others to get to the top?
• Do you ever feel secretly (or openly) excited when someone else fails?
• Do you ever feel secretly (or openly) jealous when someone else succeeds?
These kinds of feelings and behaviors are indicative of scarcity thinking, and this school of thought ultimately stems from pride. Scarcity thinking says, “There’s not enough to go around” and “opportunities are few and far between.”
Imagine we are sitting together on a bench in the park, and I say to you, “Stop breathing, right now, or there will not be enough air for me.” Scarcity thinking is equally absurd. The ruthless need for success that comes from this type of pride is blinding. It causes us to approach things like love, happiness, and success as consumable resources—“The more these blessings are received by other people, the less there will be leftover for me.”
We can overcome pride when we view the world from a perspective of abundance, and we simultaneously (and instantaneously) experience more genuine peace and fulfillment in our lives. We are also more accessible to success, because we become collaborative rather than divisive, thus opening ourselves up to a world of possibilities.
Overcome the prideful need to measure your worth by how much more successful you are than others, by operating from a core belief grounded in abundance.