Sep 272011

Fortunate is the person who has developed the self-control to steer a straight course towards his objective in life, without being swayed from his purpose by either commendation or condemnation.
— Napoleon Hill

If you have decided to be a gung-ho optimist who takes decisive daily action, odds are very good that you will have a successful life’s journey. Along the way, you will encounter subversive critics who sow the seeds of pessimism, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The pessimistic little statements are the mental version of viruses and bacteria. Most optimists eventually build up immunities against the condemnation: they learn to ignore people that say “you can’t” or “it will never work” and just take action and prove the critics wrong.

I believe that the other side of the coin, “commendation” from Napoleon Hill’s fantastic quote above, is a much more insidious virus. It invades many an optimist covertly, ultimately causing lots of problems. There is a fine-line between having confidence or being over-confident, having admirers or having associates that secretly want you to trip and fall. Compliments and flattery often go to peoples’ heads and they start to suffer from Big Head Syndrome or BHS.

A person with BHS is easy to spot — he or she starts at least half his or her sentences with “I” and loses perspective as to the team effort behind the scenes — one of the most famous BHS quotes/career-ending moves ever happened when Al Gore told America that he was the key player in the invention of the internet. (Yes, he mispoke, but you can’t watch this 90 second video and not realize that BHS is the virus that ended his political ambitions).

Today, anyone who earns quick promotions or wins accolades can get infected with BHS in a hurry. BHS sneaks up quietly and unexpectedly. After years of seeing yourself as a pretty successful professional, something clicks and you find yourself transformed, believing that you are God’s gift to your company and acting as arrogant as Maverick in Top Gun. The higher one rises in the org chart, the more money one makes, the more accolades one receives, the greater one’s span of management control, the more people solicit one’s advice, the more corporate dinners one attends at the imaginary head of the table, the more he or she is surrounded with yes-men and yes-women who pour on the commendation and flattery. Steering a straight course becomes very hard when you feel like Tom Cruise.

Staying humble, both publicly and in one’s heart, is incredibly important. If BHS infects you, painful lessons are surely coming in your future. Your team may begin to hope that you stumble, and they have the subtle power to help that happen. You may find yourself jumping at opportunities that are not a good fit for you, because you are overconfident. You might find yourself living for work and ignoring the family. You may start living a extravagant lifestyle as your subconscious tries to match your prideful inner vision. These self-destructive scenarios (and many more) are often the result of Big Head Syndrome.

Here are three quotes worth considering:

You can have everything in life you want,
if you will just help other people get what they want.

— Zig Ziglar

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go
if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

— Ronald Reagan

Humility is not thinking less of yourself,
it’s thinking of yourself less.

— Rick Warren

So what can you do to help inoculate yourself from the insidious commendation virus?

First, read and recommend it to at least three others each week 🙂

Then, search, find, and develop several sincere close friends that will
a) honestly tell you like it is,
b) stay optimistic “can do” people in the face of long odds, encouraging you when things look bleak, and
c) will make the time when you need help.

Many people I talk to often say they can’t find such friends. Don’t look for good friends, but rather look to be a good friend. Find moments to help people. Talking less and listening more is the key. You will be pleasantly surprised.

After you are fortunate enough to earn several core friends, don’t forget to ask for their advice, often. Take the time and energy to keep those valuable friendships alive and healthy.

If you stay humble and optimistic, giving public credit to all those that help you and thanking God for His blessings and help daily, you will avoid the BHS commendation trap and keep the success momentum going.

I.M. Optimism Man

  2 Responses to “Avoid the Commendation Trap”

  1. Good stuff Optimisman! I especially liked the Rick Warren quote.

    Also, I liked the Top Gun reference. Val Kilmer expertly played the role of the smarty, arrogant pilot. However, in real life it is Tom Cruise who plays that “part” flawlessly IMO. If there were awards for fitting into the BHS category, Tom Cruise would have to devote an entire wing of his mansion to hold all the plaques, trophies, etc.

  2. Great timing, thanks for the reminder. Blessings.

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