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Professional vs. personal life

While I have read about this over the years, and I think I intuitively knew this, the fact is professional success does not lead to a better personal life or more happiness. In fact the opposite is generally true, in that success can often bread unhappiness and to make the issue even more confusing, sometimes being happy first can lead to future professional success. I have learned more about this concept over the last several months both by living it, reading on the topic and getting feedback from professionals.

So how does this relate to the website? I guess it would be if you are a struggling, low income family the fact is that increased earning power, assets, income and money may not make you happy by default. A better personal life/more happiness and professional success are not correlated. In fact, various studies, including from the Nature Human Behavior, show that people are happiest around an income of $75,000 per year. As they make more money than that figure their happiness more often than not will actually decrease.

I have been trying to learn more on this topic over the months/year(s). As I have learned on a first hand basis, you can be one of the best at what you do and have tremendous professional and financial success, and in fact can be one of the “one-percenters” like me. But personal happiness does not result from that professional success or money. In fact, what I have learned more about is that many of the traits that drive people to be super successful in their business, careers, sports or whatever field they are in, those same traits can cause challenges in their personal life. As studies show, the $75K range seems to be around the level in which people are happiest. The increased income and assets, even being a 1%, from professional success does not generally cause anyone to be any happier

As examples, there are studies from groups such as the Journal of Business Venturing that show successful entrepreneurs are often obsessive about their businesses and pursuit of professional success. They can do that at the expense of their health, relationships, outside interests, and other aspects of their personal life. It is often an internal “fire” they have, and successful people need to keep it going…as it lead them to be the best. What is ironic is to some extent that obsession can lead to professional success, but hurt other aspects of their life.

Successful entrepreneurs have a greater chance of being depressed per Inc. magazine surveys and psychologists. This can be due to the fact what drove them to be successful hurts other aspects of their life…the happiness parts around relationships, outside interests, life goals, etc. Sometimes those interests and relationships are not nurtured as the focus of the entrepreneur, and all of their energy, is given to the business.

Professional success can hurt relationships. Being great often requires tremendous work, dedication, discipline, and focus to be the best. All of that can hurt others around you as the successful person may not always be “present”.

Professional success can cause insecurities as well around losing that “status”. This is true of many successful people in all sorts of professions. Think about the professional athlete who can never “retire” for fear of no longer being the best, the doctor who performs surgeries seven days a week or who can’t leave the hospital after many hours of work, even well into their 60s or later. Successful people can be so focused on being the best and they give up other personal aspects of their life that can make them happy. Their professional success or career can become their “identity”.

Some of what motivates people to be professionally successful, such as challenging childhoods, parents leaving them as kids, others putting them down or “doubting” them, etc. is not compatible with happiness either. We just wrote on how being an underdog can also sometimes lead to success, as that underdog status brings doubters and it can motive someone to be even better. That drive to be successful is often completely against a happy personal life per a study from the Psychological Bulletin.

While extreme cases, there are many example of CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Steven Jobs who came from single parents or adoption. There are also many immigrants who use that drive to be successful. But those issues of parenting are not happy ones, and the issues of unhappiness can grow over the years unless dealt with.

Often times being professional, and the drive to be that way, magnifies the personality traits you already had. So since successfully professional people, whether entrepreneurs or not, tend to be focused, disciplined, committed, have no fear of failure, take calculated risks, time management, anxious, etc. all of those traits are magnified. And what I have learned is it is very hard to turn them off and go back to what you were before successful. In fact, for most people it is not possible…they need to evolve, gain new interests, and there is no turning back.

Turn off the traits that lead to professional success

Some people may say well, just “turn off” the drive and go back to how you were prior to starting a business or achieving success. Go back to the personality or traits you had before. But what I have learned is it easier said than done. This is true for an underdog who becamse successful, and it applies in many other situations too. The drive, commitment, and other personality traits which lead to someone being great can sometimes change people, and change you personally. Being successful can change their interests, change what made them happy in the past, and influence their personal life’s in many ways. They can lose some of their past identity and need to sometimes find a new one per the APA.

There are examples of individuals like Howard Stern, Rosanne Barr, and Tim Cook and others who say they have changed over the years from their drive and focus…it changes their personality in that they lose interest in activities they may have enjoyed in the past, they always want to be on top/best, and more. It is oftentimes hard to let go.

There are countless other articles and studies on this topic. It is a very complicated issue (like much in life), but in general being great at something, be financially successful and achieving professional success does not make you happy in your personal life. There are so many factors that come into play around happiness, including purpose, genetics, environmental, professional and financial achievement, and many more. But it seems there is little or no correlation between professional success and happiness.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

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