High-performers and suicide

Why do the greatest people in almost every field get depressed, abuse substances and often take their own lives?

But first, let us talk about video games. Every video game is a story, where progressing along the story-line gets increasingly difficult. There might be pits and bumps (like boss and bonus levels) but the difficulty level is a gentle upward curve designed for the player to keep up with. The game usually ends in two ways – it either reaches its logical conclusion (“Congratulations Mario! You have saved the princess”) or the level of difficulty becomes too high for it to be fun anymore, and we quit playing it.

Video games exploit the inherent tendency of our mind to ratchet up expectations. This is a blessing, because as soon as we are good enough at something, our expectations go up, causing us to improve. In our professions and with things we do regularly, this happens week after week and year after year, without our conscious knowledge.

The catch here, is that our minds do not come with a level tracker. Nobody tells us that we are playing a game on level 40. Our mind’s powerful tendency makes every achievement seem normal very quickly regardless of how substantial it is. In this manner, every year can be as much or more of a struggle than the previous ones.

With high performers, their minds ratchet up expectation like a mechanic on steroids. This is what motivates them to push harder, practice each day, make no compromises and become world-class. However, the ratcheting simply does not stop. It becomes an obsession. They might be an outstanding football, actor, musician or chef for the rest of the world. But they never seem to be good enough for themselves.

And sadly, quitting the game here can sometimes lead them to take their lives.

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