The secret fears and insecurities of 15 CEOs

The Office
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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