The Accidental Overdose

Achievements are expected of us from infancy. The first rollover, the first step, the first word. The sooner the better. We learn early and quickly to succeed in everything we do. In school, in sports, at work, and in our personal life. Be first. Be the best. In everything.

Competitiveness is not a unique trait to us humans; it is coded into the DNA of every form of life. It is how every species survives and succeeds. Humanity has been perpetually driven to improve itself, and more so in this day and age than at any other time in history. We each seek constant challenges to elevate ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We attempt to complete every task better than we did the last time we were faced with a similar challenge. That is the essence of ‘survival of the fittest’, the biological drive that embeds internal competition within each species, and guarantees the succession of its members through its best, most capable parts. Our modern life too is driven by that code, resulting in both good and bad consequences. Some of us choose to compete at all cost, using motivation to put the ‘pedal to the metal’.

What might the consequences of that be? At which point would you realize you are about to overdo something? When will you understand that the forces you are applying in order to complete a task are overpowering? Can you appreciate the harm that will come (or already has) to yourself or others as a result of how a goal is reached? Will the cost of reaching that goal be affordable? And what if that cost is harmful or potentially lethal?

Every task you take upon yourself involves a goal directly connected to your personal or professional life. You are entrusted to reach that goal by displaying ability (or a presumed responsibility) to successfully complete it. The goal may be professional and related to your position of responsibility at your work. It may be of a personal nature within your circle of friends or family. The goal will entice you to excel, with a promise to elevate your professional or personal status. Achieving the goal would potentially improve your hierarchical standing in the group it takes place in. With that goal successfully reached one or more times, you will establish yourself as fitting leaders within the group. You will gain respect, monetary favors and sexual dominance – all primal elements of ‘survival of the fittest’.

Such a drive is hard to resist, and the deeper your head is ‘in the game’, it may be hard for you to monitor its effects outside the path to the goal. Focus, concentration, tunnel vision, you know it. Will you (could you?) see the risk or actual harm that the path you choose to take may bring upon yourself and others? Consider these possibilities:

  • Completing a task may require you to act in ways that pose a risk of physical or emotional harm to you and others on a level you would not accept under normal circumstances.
  • Completing a task may place you in a moral dilemma that may take an irreversible toll on you or others.
  • The visible rewards of a task may excite you to a point where you may become oblivious to the risk factors mining the path to the goal.

The term ‘harm’ used here represents a wide range of possibilities. Years ago, after a number of its drivers were injured and even killed while rushing to deliver the company’s pizzas to awaiting clients, a restaurant chain management changed its ‘Thirty Minutes or it’s Free’ policy, and required its caterers to drive carefully and adhere to traffic laws while making deliveries. It is reasonable to assume that the restaurant chain’s executives did not plan to harm their couriers when they devised that campaign. But the bloody results of that promotion presented a sobering reality check.

What about a task that is so demanding it causes mental anguish that leads a person to lose their job, or stresses them enough to cause a breakup of their marriage? You would hate to be placed in a situation that left you broken by the side of the road with your life investments in ruins. How would your conscious handle being responsible for causing such damage to others?

There are countless ways to avoid such consequences and save yourself and others from harm before it is too late. Consider taking steps that will allow you a good command and a reliable view of your path and performance. Consult with a colleague (for a work situation), a friend (for a personal situation), or a professional (therapist, consultant, or a coach) for either one. Take steps to ensure that you stay the course and reach your goal without exceeding the cost, and be sure that your performance graph never reaches the red line.

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