The Hidden Pitfall of Being Awesome

What happens when you’re awesome at what you do? Even more than that, what happens when you’re consistently awesome? You get a reputation for being awesome. People start to say great things about you and might even start to believe that you can handle anything that comes your way. Maybe you even can. But there’s a hidden danger here. If you start to buy into the things that other people are saying, you are apt to stop trying.

Sam Flamont related this issue to little league baseball, but the points are every bit as relevant to software development.

I asked how many times have you seen the best player become average and the average player become the best? It happens all the time and it happens because the kid who is the best begins to believe his own hype, where the kid is average keeps hearing his parents say, “Get ’em next time.” Well the average kid is sick of waiting until next time, he wants next time to be now, so he works and works as hard and as often as he can, while Kid Greatness is relaxing by a pool or playing video games.

I can almost guarantee that if you are consistently awesome it’s because you work hard. You have the killer combo of passion and drive that people want, but if you start to believe what people are saying then you grow complacent. You no longer believe that you need to work hard to maintain your status, so eventually you just stop working hard.

Once you stop asking questions, and quit pushing yourself you are going to lose the edge that got you that killer status.

Jeff Schmitt created a list of 12 behaviors that are likely to happen once you start believing your own hype. These behaviors can lead to your downfall.

In the past, you challenged conventional thinking. Now you’re the one who quashes your peers’ ideas. Your colleagues whisper that the golden boy who could do no wrong is slipping. A few even claim you hog the spotlight. You’d like to dismiss it all as a bad streak or jealousy. More likely, they sense that you’re losing those qualities—curiosity, openness, humility—that made you so formidable.

1. Dismiss questions.
2. Feel there’s no need for change.
3. Quit asking questions.
4. Don’t reach out.
5. Fall into a routine.
6. Look down on peers.
7. Lack self-awareness.
8. quit pushing yourself.
9. Grow sloppy.
10. Focus on producing hype.
11. Fixate on status.
12. Become dismayed when something’s amiss.

If you can’t believe your own hype, what can you do? Stay humble! If you stay humble you will keep asking questions and keep your drive and your passion. Thank people for the compliments that they give you, and then forget about them. Developers often suffer from imposter syndrome. This can be seen as a negative since you don’t feel competent and you don’t feel like you deserve your success, but when it comes to staying humble imposter syndrome can actually work in your favor.

Jeff Atwood has stated that in order to succeed you need to believe your hype.

However, if you have daily internal struggles with self doubt and indecision, you are almost certainly not going to achieve your mission, whatever it may be. I have found that, to a disturbing degree in this world, you have to believe your own hype to succeed.

He does go on to say that the opinions of others are traps, but says that we need to ignore them to get past our self doubt. I think that if you are lacking in self doubt then you need to ignore those opinions to get a little bit of that self doubt back because it will keep you hungry and strong. His final piece of advice is good: “concentrate on the daily routine of doing what you enjoy, what you believe in, what you find intrinsically satisfying.”

There’s a joke about believing your own hype that is attributed to Warren Buffet:

A very successful oilman dies. He faces Saint Peter, who says, “You’ve been a good man and normally I’d send you to heaven, but heaven is full. We only have a place in hell.” The oilman says, “Any chance I could talk to other oilmen who are in heaven? Maybe I can convince someone to switch places with me?” Saint Peter says, “It’s never happened before, but sure, I don’t see any harm in it.” The oilman goes to heaven, finds an oilmen convention and yells, “They found a huge oil discovery in hell!” Oilmen are stampeding out of heaven to hell, and our oilman is running with them. Saint Peter asks him “Why are you going to hell with them? I have a spot in heaven, you can stay.” The oilman answers – “Are you kidding, what if it’s true?”

Get out there, be awesome, be consistently awesome, but stay humble and stay passionate.

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