Life is, indeed, quite the roller coaster. And not the “kiddy” kind either. One moment you’re at the highest point – a clear and perfect view of the entire world laid beautifully before you. The next – a blur of moving images as you try to make sense of what is up and down. And no matter what point in the ride you may be..it’s always fleeting.
In the article How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins illuminates the falling aspect of life’s roller coaster ride. Specifically, he points out that the “Egyptian Old Kingdom, the Chou Dynasty, the Hittite Empire—all fell. Athens fell. Rome fell. Even Britain, which stood a century before as a global superpower, saw its position erode.” And although Collins’ article was meant as “A Primer on the Warning Signs” for companies in decline, I found the article to be extremely illuminating for anyone dealing with some adversity in their life.
The one part I want to discuss in particular is Collins’ ‘”Hubris Born of Success“ stage. His discussion was actually quite reminiscent of Socrates’ interpretation of the phrase “Know Thyself” and, in essence, provides a preventive measure (or at least an easing mechanism) for inevitable declines in life.
Collins discusses the first stage of a successful companies’ fall as the failure to understand what brought about initial success in the first place. Collins states that when “people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement … they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.”
So what does this mean in real life? Simply put: curb your enthusiasm and belief that you succeeded just because. Instead, strive to understand why you succeeded at the highest points of your coaster ride. Oh – and don’t forget to factor in luck because “those who fail to acknowledge the role luck may have played … overestimate their own merit and capabilities…”.
Truly, though, at its very core, the message is self-awareness. It means recognizing the height of happiness as a product of specific actions and decisions made (along with just the right amount of chance mixed in). More importantly, it means comprehending why those specific factors work and under what conditions they would (or would not) work again.
Easier said than done? Absolutely.
Nevertheless, it’s proven to be an interesting lesson on staying in touch with reality at the highest points in life while staying proactive in the lower parts.