The Winner’s Curse

March 21, 2022

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The Winner’s Curse: How Type A Personalities Can Become Overwhelmed And Burnt Out.

The Winner’s Curse is something I see a lot in my clients with Type A personalities; it is also a trait I saw in my dad (who had a work-driven heart attack and stroke, now fully recovered) and myself. It refers to personality attributes that lead to success but also make us susceptible to overwhelm and burnout. We can forget about our self-care because our ambition and hard work can lead to us not being able to enjoy and appreciate success. Instead, success feels like a relentless battle that begins to take its toll on our mental and physical well-being.

Type A refers to a personality typology that sits on a continuum and describes how individuals think, act and react to various situations. On one end of the continuum are Type A personalities, who are highly competitive, ambitious and impatient and on the other end are Type B personalities who are relaxed, patient and non-competitive. Type B is often referred to as non-Type A. These personality types were first discovered by two cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenman, by accident when they decided to change the chairs in their waiting room. The upholsterer commented that the chairs had worn out in an unusual way, which prompted investigation. As cardiologists, they found that Type A personalities run higher risks of heart disease and hypertension than Type B, but as the research has developed, their findings have now been conceptualised into a set of behavioural patterns known as Type A Behaviour Pattern (TABP). Or best to put here?

Common behavioural symptoms

Type A behaviour symptoms:

  • Move, walk and eat rapidly.
  • Tendency to want to multitask.
  • Prefer work over leisure.
  • Tendency to overmeasure success (metrics, comparison, things acquired) .

Type B behaviour symptoms:

  • Don’t suffer from urgency.
  • Can relax without guilt.
  • Plan for fun and relaxation.
  • They don’t feel a need to display their achievements.

Of the many ways to categorise personalities, I find this one powerful for high-performance coaching in law and finance because it highlights key areas of concern that can be easily overlooked. My dad and I sure did.By understanding certain characteristics, it empowers us to be able to adopt behaviours and practices that will help mitigate against potential downsides and allow us to optimise ourselves for a successful and sustainable career.In the world of Big Law and Finance, there is an over-representation of people with Type A personalities. I see these traits in myself, my dad, in my former colleagues and in many of my clients.In fact, one of my assessment criteria during the onboarding process to my programmes is whether the potential client is a Type A personality. I include this assessment criteria because I know a Type A is a great fit for my style of coaching, which is to sustain high performance, so my clients can have it all – an optimal personal and professional life.

Characteristics of People with Type A-Personality

There are many positives of a Type A personality. In my experience working in the corporate world and time coaching predominantly Type A corporate executives, I have found the following traits to be the most striking and positive of Type A personalities.

Hardworking

Type A personalities have very strong work ethics and it is something to be proud of. A whole career in law and finance is characterised by consistent hard work, with most Type A personalities often starting their hard work from childhood, constantly having to either pass exams, gain admission to select schools, universities, then firms, and subsequently needing to impress their supervisors. It is not only hard work, but work completed is at a very high standard. If you are a Type A, just think how difficult it is for you to put your name on something that you are not 100% onboard with.

Strong ambition

Another positive trait that Type A knows very well is strong ambition. It is that drive to reach the top and the confidence they demonstrate in always wanting to improve, achieve the highest scores and produce the best work. I see it often with Type A when they talk about their aspirations. They are always big. If you are going to do something, why do you not want to be the best at it? It is admirable the courage that Type As demonstrate in their drive to achieve their goals, no matter how hard it might be to achieve.

Good leaders

Hard work and strong ambition tends to give Type As the confidence and competence to be in charge and they usually are very good in charge. The organisation, drive, and focus that makes up Type A plays a strong role in why they make good leaders. This is especially so, when Type As are also high in conscientiousness, because they care deeply about the work they do and this passion will push others to do the same. Resilient and strong Type A personalities can be remarkable in their ability to get up after being knocked down. Their desire to be productive and do their best gives them the motivation to keep pushing forward despite negative circumstances. No matter how tight the deadline or time left in the day, Type A personalities can find the energy to push on and achieve.

How Type A personalities can become overwhelmed and burnt out.

The Winner’s Curse becomes apparent when you now take many individuals with Type A characteristics and concentrate them in an industry that selects for and rewards Type A characteristics. It creates a perfect environment for high performance and success but also a culture that is susceptible to becoming overwhelmed and burnt out.

In my experience, I have found the following traits to be common among Type A personalities that makes them susceptible to the Winner’s Curse, as they tend to be:

  • Very competitive and self-critical.
  • Constantly feel as though they are working against the clock.
  • Quick to become impatient with delays and wasted time.
  • Experience higher stress levels and can be easily ‘wound up’.
  • Hate failure and overfocus on perfection.
  • Find it difficult to stop working even when they have achieved their goals.
  • Tend to have significant life imbalance, such as high work involvement and neglecting family and extracurricular interests.

I want it to be clear that Type A is not bad; in fact, the most successful companies and employees tend to be Type A dominant in their characteristics. Sustainable high performance is not about getting rid of Type A behaviours because those behaviours are successful and adaptive traits. Rather, we should learn to manage it so that we can maximise the positive aspects and minimise the negatives. By the same token, this is not in any way saying that Type B personalities are less successful. There are in fact extremely successful Type B leaders. However, the focus in my coaching is that Type As have a greater propensity to get to a place of overwhelm and burnout in a high-performing and demanding corporate world.

Top five actions to overcome the negatives of Type A

To manage and mitigate against the Winner’s Curse, adopt one or more of the actions I recommend to my Type A clients, who are wanting to bounce back from burnout, beat overwhelm and begin to thrive in their success as a Type A.

Set boundaries

Healthy boundaries are important to sustainable high performance and maximising self-care in the workplace. Without setting boundaries, Type A’s can begin to feel depleted, overworked and overwhelmed. It makes it difficult to maintain a balance between work and life. The dedication that Type As put into achieving their goals and working hard should also be put into setting boundaries as boundaries will best allow you to maintain peak performance and work engagement. The best way to do this is to set daily non-negotiable self-care habits. This could be as simple as taking regular breaks; be it that mindfulness break or a 5-minutes break in fresh air away from the computer screen.

Restoring balance

Restoring balance is about taking a step back and assessing areas you may be neglecting. The most common imbalances I see in my clients are neglecting relationships with partners and children. In other instances, it is not spending enough time on hobbies or extracurricular activities. Restore balance by setting up weekly or monthly date nights or outings with the family. Or schedule in and stick to starting your Saturday morning with the sport or activity you enjoy best.

Beyond people pleasing

Because Type As want to do their best coupled with high conscientiousness – in the short-term it may benefit you – but in the long-term, it can backfire, as constant work can lead to you feeling guilt and anxiety when you can’t do your best. The fear of disapproval builds and over time this can weigh down on you physically and emotionally, leading to overwork, resentment and burnout.

To overcome pleasing people, take a moment to yourself and examine your thoughts. Try to distinguish between whether you are people pleasing out of kindness or because of fear, guilt or a sense of pressure.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism in Type A personalities can turn us into slaves of success. Ambition can keep you focused too much on failure and drive emotions of chronic doubt (finding mistakes no matter how well you’re doing) and unworthiness. The most powerful way to overcome perfectionism and take action today is to replace perfection with excellence. There’s a difference between excellence and perfection. Perfectionism keeps you trapped in the fear that success and self-worth are contingent on flawless performance every single time, and that success is contingent on perfection. Reframing to excellence allows for the emotional space to see that excellence is about learning, improving and feeling engaged and motivated with your work, not just avoiding mistakes and seeing flaws. Sustainable high performance is an antidote to this as it allows for a mindset shift to see excellence as a goal we achieve consistently over time.

Don’t be loyal to your fault

Nine out of ten times in our careers and business loyalty is a virtue, but there are rare times when our loyalty can be at fault and push you closer to burn out. There are occasions when our loyalty to a company, a team or a boss can mean we feel trapped and have to put up with a lot of stress. When a relationship is not reciprocal, it can be to our detriment to continue in it and it might be time to exit and re-establish a relationship on equal, reciprocal terms. If you feel you may be loyal to a fault, ask yourself:

  • Does it make sense to my goals/principles/wellness to stay loyal?
  • Is it reciprocal?
  • Have you set boundaries and are they being broken?
  • If you broke your loyalty, would it lead to better things?

If the answers to these questions highlight to you that the current relationship is not inline with your principles, it is not reciprocal and your boundaries are being infringed on, then it may serve you well to break loyalty to create something better. Remember: all great innovations broke loyalty with their legacy relationship. If you, like me or my Dad, have experience with the Winner’s Curse or any part of this blog post rings true to you, I would love to hear from you. Contact me today on social media or book a call with me if you need help setting up your own sustainable high-performance future. I specialise in helping high-performing executives achieve sustainable performance with psychological, business and health expertise.

My holistic approach to sustainable high performance has already helped many build resilience, prevent burnout and thrive in their success. Book a strategy call with me!

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