Is dysfunction the key to leadership?
[highlight]Michael Jackson, Ludwig van Beethoven, Larry Ellison, Barack Obama, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps, Vincent Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Thomas Edison, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Tom Ford, Howard Stern:[/highlight]
What do all these people have in common? Besides the fact that they are all great achievers, they also have the same common denominator, “DYSFUNCTION.” Each one of these leaders in their field have said they all had a dysfunctional childhood or came from dysfunctional families. So is being dysfunctional is a must requirement for achieving greatness? To answer that, I’m going to begin with a question:
What is the ultimate purpose of human beings?
You probably are thinking “achievement” and you are probably right. However, I’ll even go further and ask, what is achievement?
From the moment we come out of the womb, we are in pursuit of one single goal, comfort. When we cry, it is because we are uncomfortable. It is our only way to express our discomfort. It’s a new environment and babies don’t like it. As we grow older, instead of crying, we use words to communicate; even if we might do it poorly.
When someone’s talking to you, you respond. When you are cold, you put on a jacket. When you are thirsty, you drink. When you are uncomfortable, you immediately start working towards making yourself comfortable.
This is a primal human instinct, from the moment individuals are born until they die. That is our life mission, or better said, the purpose of our life. Everyone has the same purpose but each of us has a different reason. We all strive to achieve the same thing but through different avenues. By this I mean, comfort and whatever that means to you. Since we are all pursuing the same thing, why do some people, according with our societal standards, achieve more than others? Because there are different levels of comfort.
Everyone is asking, what motivates these outstanding people to accomplish so much? What motivates them to keep going?
There is so much literature out there teaching individuals what they need in order to achieve success, however, these types of materials keep increasing but so does the failure rate. How come you hear so many people talking about success, but how come there aren’t many people experiencing it? Why is there such a high failure rate?
Instead of giving you the answer, I’ll answer it with another question? What do ninety percent of the greatest achievers, the most popular icons, amazing innovators, billionaires, the most famous athletes and other amazing successful people have in common?
Due to their dysfunction, these people are the most uncomfortable people in the world. Being uncomfortable is what they know as love and caring. That might be “love” for many people. That’s what they’ve been taught from early childhood. Of course, there are many other people in the same position. However, we’re not talking about all the different things one needs to achieve success or what other different factors are involved in achieving greatness; I’m saying, all the high-achievers have one common denominator: a big huge dysfunction.
Their dysfunction is their nucleus. They feel better, more at ease while pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. Their dysfunction is their engine, their drive, their motivation, their underlying beliefs, and their identity. Dysfunction is what pushes one forward or drags one to the ground. Dysfunction is the origin of low self-esteem and where confidence commits suicide. Dysfunction is where fear, doubt, and all the negative self-beliefs are gestating. Dysfunction gives one the extra push, the extra needed self-validation, and the superpower to achieve what he’s lacking the most, comfort.
Not all dysfunctional people will have the same level of achievements nor will their life take the same course but they will all pursue the same thing; comfort through discomfort. While one dysfunctional person might over-eat and become morbidly obese, another might push to starve himself or over-train. The same dysfunction can push one into drugs and over-destructive behavior while another into over working or over-achieving. Both cases have the same purpose, but a different way of achieving it. Regardless of the issue, they all seek the same thing: subconsciously they are running away from dealing with the dysfunction and towards how the dysfunction makes them feel; and that is the discomfort created by it. Dysfunctional people run away from the cause and towards the effect. One can end up a billionaire or become an amazing/famous artist, and another one with the same purpose can end up being a broke alcoholic or drug addict.
Same purpose, different directions.
As there are different types of dysfunctions, there are also different levels of comfort zones. The bigger the dysfunction the more drive and the higher level of comfort will be chased. The bigger the trauma one endured in childhood, the bigger the drive one’s going to have in his adulthood. The bigger the suffering means more motivation to self-destruct or over-achieve.
Undoubtedly, driven by our natural born animal instinct, it’s only normal to seek comfort. Whether it is quieting the voices in your head, or some other distraction mechanism, one’s going to camouflage his dysfunction in order to cope with life.
Furthermore, since there is a stigma associated with having a dysfunction, one will deny its existence to himself and others and how it may influence his behavior.
It is common for the non-achievers to ask the over-achievers: What drives them to pursue their dreams? What motivates them? What makes them special? The answer is: the size of their dysfunction and the level of their pain. With that being said, what are you going to tell a 6-year-old aspiring to have the same success as Oprah Winfrey or Marylin Monroe?
Are you going to tell them they need to be sexually abused or need to spend time in foster homes? Are you going to tell them “they can’t” succeed just because they were raised properly? No. You are going to tell them “you can do it” and have them buy more motivational literature and self-help books to give them hope. Is that valid hope? Probably not. They probably won’t reach the same level of achievement and no one should care. Is that fair? It is the reality as we know it and that often isn’t fair. Most people want to have the harvest of a dysfunction but, rightfully, no one wants to live through it or experience one.
As a means to cope with a dysfunction, many will run away from it or try to preoccupy or distract themselves. For example, inventing the light bulb (Thomas Edison); or by building an empire while struggling with weight loss (Oprah Whinfrey); or by recording albums (Michael Jackson); or by inventing the most successful product of all time, Mac computers (Steve Jobs); or by swimming laps and winning several Olympic gold medals (Michael Phelps); just to name a few. That’s what they’ll do. They will achieve. That explains why it is so easy for the higher achievers to get out of their comfort zone. Because that is what “home” is to them.
On the other hand, you probably witnessed and wondered at the same time why several successful people ruin themselves and their career with destructive behavior like drugs and alcohol. How is it when someone is doing so well and has everything, why would they choose to give it all away? Often, individuals with a dysfunction are unaware of their condition and the nature of their pursuit. They are just being attracted to pain and chaos. In the event of reaching their conscious comfort zone, it’s only normal to all of a sudden feel uneasy and slightly uncomfortable. Since all their life, they lived with a false sense of what is comfortable, once they reach it, it will be a major let down.
Also, you’ve seen several people achieving greatness and still desire to achieve more, to conquer different heights. Then you wonder again, when is enough, enough for these people? Don’t they have enough already? Well, it’s not money they are chasing, it’s comfort. These people are usually experiencing a massive disappointment after achieving greatness while realizing that the dysfunction is still there. They might not be fully aware of why they still feel this way; however, the feeling is there. Some people turn to drinking and drugs, others start chasing more goals and achieving more. It is not because they need more, it is who they are. Being dysfunctional is a part of their identity, part of who they are. It’s like an engine they can’t shut down. It’s because they haven’t reached their comfort zone. You hear a lot of stories of successful people committing suicide, dying of overdose, or making really poor decision that eventually ruin their careers. It’s because they keep moving forward, or in some cases downward in their pursuit of their comfort zone, without knowing that the pursuit itself is their comfort zone.
In my case, I lived all my life with a certain dysfunction. My mother emotionally abused me in my early years and throughout my teens. I won a World Champion wrestling title when I was eighteen years old, moved to the United States when I was twenty-three, wrote a book, own a successful business, and I’m currently working on several other goals. I always asked myself, what motivates me, what drives me forward to achieve my better self? What is enough? I constantly move forward because that’s all I know. That’s my identity. I always wanted to be comfortable, to heal from my childhood trauma. I always wanted to prove to myself and to my family and to the world that I am better then what I was raised to believe I was. My dysfunction is at the core to my motivation and it fuels my drive. That is what pushed me and still pushes me to move forward. I finally realized that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. Is the chase I’m pursuing, not the finish line. You’re probably asking, isn’t that unhealthy? Don’t you want to be cured and healed? Don’t you want to feel comfortable?
When you cure a dysfunction, you’ll erase an identity. That’s who I am, that’s my self-identity. I learned and chose to use my dysfunction in a positive way; to achieve rather than fail. Many psychologists try to cure a dysfunction, to help patients forget and to move forward. One can spend years in therapy trying to learn to accept himself/herself and to cope with society. However, is that the answer? Is this how you help one get better? We acquire our identity in our first six to eight years of our life. It is imprinted in our gene structure. This is who we are. By “curing” a dysfunction, you cut down the roots, the footprints of one’s self-identity. Most professionals have to reduce an individual to zero while rebuilding his self-image. They attempt to rebuild one’s new identity, however, it will be less motivated, less driven but probably happier and more content. It’s all good until society comes in and tells them that who and what they are isn’t good enough. Everything is great with the new cured and healthy individual until he faces the world again. A world with the same standards as before, standards set by the “over achievers”, by the ones with a big dysfunction. Similar standards set by himself prior to becoming a “new man”. Now let the chase begin again, with less tools than before. Now all of a sudden, you are inferior, less, and crippled.
What do you do if you have a dysfunction? How can you help someone get better while helping them keep their drive and motivation? You start teaching individuals about their dysfunctions. Teach them how to recognize it and live with it. Teach them how to own it rather than being owned by it. Make one aware of their dysfunction when making decisions. Teach them to understand that a dysfunction isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it is directed towards a positive behavior. Help them observe what negative thoughts it generates and how these thoughts can possibly affect your life in a negative way, if acted upon. Once you do that, you quarantine these thoughts, observe them, and let them fuel your drive, to motivate you in achieving the opposite; to help you achieve rather than self-destruct. Control your dysfunction with self-awareness, self-control, and self-discipline.
Our society is telling individuals what is good and what is bad. The high achievers, the icons, and business moguls set the definition of success. The self-help industry and the motivational gurus are selling to the healthy crowd, the healed individuals, the secret to achieve success; success based on the standards and achievements of the dysfunctional people. However, they don’t mention what one needs to have in order to achieve these levels, only what one needs to do.
You might ask: are the non-dysfunctional people having a disadvantage in the race of success? It all depends of which success standards you are going by. It all depends who’s your role model. You are only going to achieve less if the standards you set are by the highly dysfunctional, over-achievers and not by a healthy, regular individual. It’s less only if you want more. However, don’t panic, there is hope. We all have dysfunctions, from small ones to big ones; all you have to do is acknowledge them and use them to fuel your drive. Imagine an athlete who loses a fight. How’s that going to affect him? It might get him angry and frustrated. A loss/failure will affect someone to a certain degree. It’s like a small trauma. It’s only small because we know how to deal with it; however, it’s still a ‘’traumatizing’’ experience. The bigger the loss, the bigger the trauma, the better the tool. That’s how athletes are using a loss to motivate them, to work harder, to improve for the next fight/opponent. That’s how you capitalize on a dysfunction to help achieve more and to grow. That’s how you use it to reinforce a positive behavior. That’s’ how the most successful people in the world profit from a dysfunction; to achieve greatness. Since a dysfunction is part of your identity, of who you are, most of the times it will be difficult to acknowledge and bring it to the surface, to your conscious. That is crucial in whether you’ll reach greatness or the opposite: overworking, over-achieving, or depression, massive failure, or even overdose, alcoholism and suicide. Most of these over-achievers are conscious and brave enough to talk about their dysfunction and bring some awareness to the subject; however, some of them aren’t. Since everyone’s asking where is the drive and motivation coming from, it’s only normal to wonder, what makes these people special? Against what everyone thinks, I believe you can turn a dysfunction into your lottery ticket with a little luck and a lot of self-awareness. Have a successful dysfunctional day. Leave your comments below and tell us what you think!
Words by Leo Frincu
For more about Leo Frincu, please visit his website.