NOT ALONE

The secret fears and insecurities of 15 CEOs

Obsession
The Office
Obsession
The Office

The American dream offers an appealing roadmap for how to live your life. If you’re a talented person who works hard and never gives up, you’ll eventually rise it to the top—perhaps becoming a billionaire entrepreneur, an award-winning scientist, or a CEO.

Implicit in that message is that with achievement comes happiness. But a TEDx talk by Shirzad Chamine, a lecturer at Stanford University who has served as an executive coach, offers proof that wealthy, high-achieving types are often just as lonely and afraid as anybody else.

In his TEDx talk, Chamine recounts asking a group of 100 CEOs and presidents to anonymously write down “one secret they never shared about how they really feel inside.” As he reads through their confessions (starting at about 8:30), I found myself nodding along in agreement with at least one third of the statements:

  • I am terrified of failing as the leader of my business
  • I am rarely at peace with myself
  • I fear dying from an early age from overwork and stress
  • I am feeling sad and lonely and the anti-depressants I am on don’t seem to be working
  • I battle with constantly ranking and judging everyone around me
  • I have no idea how to truly connect with my only son
  • My air of confidence is false
  • I am self-destructive and I don’t know why
  • I don’t love myself very much
  • I lack strength in resisting temptations and desires
  • I often feel like I’m a fraud
  • I worry my materialism is hurting my children
  • I have been abusing drugs and alcohol to deal with stress
  • I wish I could run away for one year just to be alone
  • I’m afraid of ending up like my father, who is unloved and will die alone

By the end I felt myself wanting to hug these anonymous executives, particularly the last one. In my career, I have struggled with this mindset—the belief that making enough money or climbing high enough on the corporate ladder will silence that critical voice in my mind. This talk is a good reminder for everyone who tends to chase a dream with fervor and intensity: That which is unsettled before you achieve your goals will likely remain unsettled after.

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