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Keep It Up: The Challenge of Staying on Top

Yesterday, he was on top of his game. Today, it seems he is nowhere near his best. You see a business grow from unknown to dominator in a given market. But a few years later other organizations relegate the once dominant business to oblivion. What happens to individuals or organizations after a period of success?

Why people succeed and then don?t remain successful is a phenomenon that has crossed my mind since my days of youth in Kangundo, Kenya as I painfully witnessed talented and successful students fail in exams after spectacular performance in previous testing.

To be admitted to government high school during my days, seventh grade students had to complete three exams: mathematics, English and general paper (this included geography, history, civics and general sciences). In the year I passed (I had failed in the previous year), only about ten students in a class of 120 received passing grades on the high school admission exam.

My high school class had 120 students who were there on academic merits. After four years only about 15 students passed another exam to qualify for the final two years of high school. Out of the 15 talented students, three of us went to university after passing an exam that forced our classmates to be left behind.

There are many parameters one can examine to determine what happened to the otherwise brilliant after being successful. Adjustments to living away from our parents, the freedom of making decisions about one?s life, or the subjects we studied are some factors that might have impacted how these students thrived. Some students didn?t have time to study as they were preoccupied with family matters.

Today, after seeing initially harmonious marriages fail, successful teams succumb to lesser talented opponents, and Olympic champions struggle to stay on top (both in their professional and personal lives), my reflections go back to those earlier days. Regardless of the activity several things are common.

1. Loss of the initial vision, focus and determination. Think of the vision you had. How focused were you when you began? Is your determination the same?

2. Relishing the success of the moment for too long. In my school, this was sad. Some of my fellow students relished their flying colors in past exams, but had no time to focus and prepare for what was ahead.

3. Not adjusting soon enough for the challenges of new circumstances. Today?s world is different from that of our parents, whether in workplaces or at home. You have to evaluate where you are and what you must do to stay on top and adapt to the new challenges.


4. Assuming that what got you there will keep you there. This is the fastest way to fall back faster than you climbed up. Competitors were also ?climbing.? New methods of doing thing are constantly being developed. Be in-tune with what?s new.

5. Pride, arrogance and I-know-it-all attitude. I rest my case. But I must share one observation. It seemed like joining high school made some students forget that they still belonged to the Kamba tribe. Some came home, after just three months in a boarding school, pronouncing Kamba words with the same accent as European missionaries. Their walking style and their manners, too, had changed. It was hard to watch these students humbled back to the Kamba way of life by the next exam?when they failed.

6. Forgetting that you have to keep growing to stay on top. When you don?t grow, you go.

7. Inability to develop a new vision that creates new challenges to overcome, new territories to conquer, and new heights to attain.

You know where you are. You know how you got there. You know what is not working. How can you ?pass? the next exam?

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