You were talented, and you worked hard. From a young age, you were motivated. Everyone expected you to be successful in life and indeed you have had your success. But at some point, you realize that all your hard work, talent and luck has brought you to this point and this is as far as it goes. You can’t go much further from here. People who are getting ahead of you now, are indeed way better than you are. The difference is so obvious, that you can’t even deny it.
I think almost every person has to come to terms with it at some stage of their lives. Does not matter how good you are at what you do, at some point you have to make way for others who are superior to you. You have already reached your potential and you honestly don’t have what it takes to go to the next level. While this situation is not uncommon, different people process it in different ways. I am not talking about those who have given up early and wasted their potential. I am talking about those who have followed through, who have done everything they could to reach where they are now. And their level of achievement is pretty impressive, by all standards. What happens when such people come to realize that they have reached their end of the climb?
One class of people refuse to accept the simple truth. The fight the inevitable by crying foul…..they blame the system for being biased against them, or for being biased towards other people who got ahead. They often turn bitter, negative and one finds them cribbing all the time. My colleague who sits in the next office, pops into my office at least once every day, and unloads all injustice happening with her….how she got overlooked for a certain award, and how a completely unworthy person was the recipient, how she is not being invited to a prestigious meeting, and how some mediocre person got the invitation, etc. etc. If it is a man who is being chosen over her, then she is an isolated woman in this male-dominated field. If it is a woman instead, then she claims this woman uses her feminine charm to get ahead. Every time it does not go her way, it is unfair.
Few people want to counter the truth by putting some distance between themselves and their smarter rivals. They voluntarily climb down one or two ranks such that they can again surround themselves with people who worship them. They attempt to bring back some of their lost self-esteem in this way. Where I work, the ex-director was like this. He used to work at a very big place, and wanted the top job there. When he did not get it, and a much better candidate was chosen over him, he resigned from there and came to our place instead. Here, he easily became the director and never failed to remind everyone at every opportunity what a great place he comes from.
Another class of people accept the simple truth more gracefully. It will be unrealistic to say that it does not affect their pride at all. But they remain collected. They never bad-mouth those who are doing better. They try to satisfy themselves with what they have, they try to avoid comparing themselves with others, they try to find values in what they are doing, even though they have to admit it is not the very best. It is not an easy thing to do. In a professional world, where competitions are tough, where bragging about your own achievements in a subtle way is often considered normal, it is not easy to keep your spirit high and not let negativity accumulate inside you. I have few colleagues, and friends like this. They struggle but they keep it together. With time some of them become quieter and maintain a low profile.
Few others use yet another coping strategy. They trivialize the accomplishment of people who are doing better than them. They refuse to admit that anyone else is smarter than they are. If they themselves are not able to get to the next level, they promptly declare the next level does not matter. They never cared for it anyway. The fact that few people are already sitting there, proves nothing about their abilities. These people are often loudest, and create most noise. It won’t be wrong to say that they also often provide a comic relief. It is fun to watch how they try to bend the reality according to their liking. It is a story they tell themselves, and by being loud, emphatic, they hope others will also buy into their version of reality.
My workplace has people from all the above categories.