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Too Much of a Good Thing

“You can’t be too rich or too thin.” This has been the unspoken mantra of American pop culture for as long as I can remember. Advertisers and media reinforce the idea daily through marketing, social media, and celebrity news. Despite our efforts to think otherwise, it tends to shape our idea of what a good life looks like.

Curious about the origin of this popular expression, I discovered that it was attributed to Wallis Simpson. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, you probably saw it in a history textbook at some point. As you may or may not recall, Wallis Simpson was the American socialite whose intended marriage to King Edward VII caused a constitutional crisis in the UK that led Edward to abdicate the throne. For a season, she was one of the most famous—or infamous—people in the world.

Naive romantics might be tempted to label this episode in history the ultimate love-conquers-all story; however, Simpson’s legacy, at least according to most commentators, is one of blind ambition, manipulated truth, and a classic example of excess leading to a bad outcome. Wallis and Edward were shunned by many in the social circles she had wanted to be in. She was never allowed to be a full member of the Royal Family and lived her final years as a recluse.

Today, the brightest among us can still get swept up in the moment. Take Elon Musk as an example. Musk, who, by all accounts, is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, is now caught up in an S.E.C. investigation because of an impulsive tweet. While it’s not likely that Musk will face charges, the distractions associated with a prolonged investigation were likely not what he had in mind when he pushed “Tweet.”

Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, explains in The New York Times that a person like Musk is “quicker to spot and act on opportunities, but that same tendency can get them into trouble in other situations.” It seems that Dr. Shane is saying exactly what we teach in Core Strengths: Results through Relationships training—that strengths can be overdone.

There’s nothing wrong with wealth, a trim physique, or an inclination to move quickly to seize opportunities. It’s when these or any other aspects of life are overemphasized to the point that they prevent us from achieving what’s really important, or begin to negatively affect the people around us, that we should rethink our actions. It’s that little word “too” that makes all the difference—and it’s the people around us who will determine whether we’re “too” or just right.

The good news is that we all have the ability to make adjustments, and sometimes even a minor adjustment can make a major difference in the outcome. In some instances, we may even want to use a certain strength more—or as I like to say, turn up the volume on a strength that might help us achieve better results.

A good life is based on good relationships. Too much of any good thing can get in the way of those relationships. Is there any aspect of your life that you’re overdoing? If so, some adjustments may be in order.

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Dr. Mike Patterson is a principal at Core Strengths and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He is also the co-author of Core Strengths: Results through Relationships training and the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places. Contact him at mike@corestrengths.com

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