Success is a double-edged sword – especially if you’re a Type A

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told the following words of wisdom, or at least some variation of them:

  • “Success takes hard work – nothing is handed to you on a silver platter.” (I’m raising my hand here)
  • “If you don’t work hard and get good grades, you’ll never amount to anything.” (I’m raising my hand here too)
  • “If you’re not walking around with a destination in mind, you’re wasting time.”
  • “Once I have my career and make my money, then I will relax and enjoy life.” (This last one is something you may say to yourself after working overtime for the umpteenth time and blowing off your friends/family again).

So what have these words of wisdom generated? Some very hard-working, high-achieving people who refuse to stop and smell the proverbial roses, and whose only time for relaxation is when they end up in a hospital bed, wondering why they feel so tired and stressed and why their blood pressure is so high. These are what psychologists call “Type A” personalities.

People with a Type A personality are characterized by two main traits: strong Achievement Striving (made up of competitiveness, perfectionism, and drive), and strong Impatience/Irritability (made up of hostility, time urgency, tough-mindedness, and reward orientation). While Achievement Striving can be productive and is conducive to success, it can be taken to an extreme. Case in point: overachievers and workaholics. The Impatience/Irritability side of Type A is often the most damaging; there is a constant need to get things done NOW, the inability to trust, depend on, or open up to others, and the intense desire to get more and more money, status, and power.

A study we conducted at Queendom indicates that while women have a greater sense of time urgency, men tend to be more competitive and tough-minded (rigid in thought and conduct; uncomfortable with expression of emotion). Men are also more motivated by external incentives like money and status. Age comparisons reveal that the scores for competitiveness, hostility, tough-mindedness, reward orientation, perfectionism, achievement striving, and impatience/irritability tend to peak between the ages of 25-29, and then drop steadily. Our theory is that between the ages of 25-29, people are more likely to be finishing school, getting into grad school, starting a new career, etc.

If you were one of those kids who had parents who pushed you hard to get good grades, here’s something to think about: Our study revealed that top achievers scored highest on competitiveness, drive, and achievement striving, while below average students scored highest on hostility, tough-mindedness, and impatience/irritability. Interestingly, students with top grades and those with below average grades had almost identical scores on time urgency and perfectionism. Those with good grades (above average, but not in the top 5%) were the least likely to use or need rewards as a source of motivation. The lesson? It might be better to encourage and nurture kids to do their best. Push too hard, and you may do more harm than good. Success can come with a price.

There’s no doubt that Type A people have the potential to do amazing things. They just spend so much of their energy doing it that they don’t have time to enjoy it. It’s something we’ve all done. “I’ll work hard now, so that I can enjoy my money later.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. And if the world needed additional proof that more money doesn’t necessarily make a person happy, Queendom’s data reveals that individuals in the highest salary bracket ($100, 000 or more) scored higher than the other income groups on all the traits related to Type A personality. Workaholics, not surprisingly, scored higher than non-workaholics on the Type A traits. However, when it comes to work satisfaction and performance, those who are not satisfied with their job and those whose performance has been rated poorly scored the highest on hostility, time urgency, tough-mindedness, reward orientation, perfectionism, and impatience/irritability. Remarkably, those who love their job and perform well and those who hate their job and perform poorly are equally competitive and driven – the difference between these two groups and their success orientation however, may be found in their definition of success and its implications. If it’s your be-all-to-end-all, well, you may find yourself spending your entire life working towards successes that you will never enjoy.

Here are some tips if you have the habits of a Type A person:

  • Accept who you are and where you stand, even it isn’t where you want to be. Self-acceptance is the first step on the road to a successful life. Acceptance isn’t about giving up – it’s about finding joy in your life by coming to terms with who you are right now.
  • Let go of envy. Envy is a tough emotion to manage, but if you don’t control it, it will control you. Envy makes us prisoners of other people’s image issues as well as our own. This negative emotion keeps you from appreciating the positive aspects of your life and totally distorts your sense of reality.
  • Give yourself a break. Schedule down time for yourself, and make sure you stick to it. Turn off your phone, say no to any social invitations, and do something you enjoy. Unwind, pamper yourself…and make it a habit. Remember that “rest” doesn’t mean you have to sit idle on the couch all day; it can involve varying behavior that’s a break from routine. It is important that you expand your definition of relaxation and rest as a state of mind, not an absence of physical or mental activity.
  • Re-examine your long-term goals. Are you doing what you want with your life? From the vantage point of your deathbed, what do you want to be able to say about how you spent your years?
  • Enjoy the process. People who feel they have successful lives uniformly emphasize the fact that success is a process. It would appear that when it comes to the business of living, the process is everything. Though having goals is instrumental, there are really no final end points. Things continue to evolve. Goals change and we change. If you can’t take part in the process or live only for some moment in the distant future, you are cheating yourself and those who love you. So remember, the process is everything. Enjoy it and appreciate it while it’s happening.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. Setting extremely high standards for yourself will only amount to added pressure. Accept that you are human, and forgive yourself for making mistakes. Learn to appreciate errors as learning experiences.
  • Stop putting off living. People who exhibit Type A behavior often put off relationships, love, friendships, and personal growth, and postpone developing interests, furthering talents, and fostering creativity. They keep anticipating tomorrow and forgetting about the here and now. If this rings true for you, try to notice and take pleasure in the little things. Take the time to appreciate what you have, whether in terms of material things, relationships, experiences, etc.

Are you a Type A? How does it impact your life? Share your comments below!

Join me for next week’s discussion on social anxiety!

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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