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Dr. Joy's Research

Having coached various elite individuals over the years, I was inspired to conduct research to explore what appeared to be an association between career success, excessive drive, and difficult past life experiences. Grounded theory research methodology was used to develop a theory to explain the phenomenon of the impact of personal, nonwork experiences on career path success for elite performers.

Success as a Protective Factor: Humanizing Elite Athletes, Leaders, and Business Owners

Interviews revealed that participants’ career success is directly connected to mindsets and behavioral patterns they developed in response to difficult personal experiences that involved a loved one (or several) who was intentionally or unintentionally the source of psychological pain or discomfort that took place in their youth. At the time of the incident(s), their efforts to make sense of the experience and the associated psychological discomfort and to identify a solution to relieve the threat led them to conclude that performing an activity related to the event and those associated with it at a high level would relieve the psychological stressor.

This initiates a continual process of using high performance to minimize and cope with life stressors. Over time, the process becomes primarily preventative rather than reactionary and evolves from using high performance to cope with life stressors to being a process of success as a protective factor. High performance and all the behaviors and mindsets associated with it, are always active for the purpose of preventing, reducing, and resolving unexpected psychological vulnerability and threats.

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Ultimately, elite performers have used high performance and achievement (success) to protect themselves against psychological threats, perceived or real, and the vigilant manner in which they go about these efforts has resulted in high levels of career and financial success. While above-average career outcomes are among the adaptive properties of the Success as a Protective Factor process, unfortunately, unintended consequences for the elite performer and others in their personal life confirm its equally powerful maladaptive properties.

Population Demographics

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