Success Now a Disorder?

Brian Hicks

Updated May 16, 2005

Dear Wealth Daily reader:

A few months ago in a Wealth Daily issue titled “The Castration of Competition,” I wrote about “pop” science’s obsession with eliminating competition from the public school system.

You may remember the quote I cited, which has become gospel among “enlightened circles” of today’s childhood educators:

“Competition is to self-esteem, as sugar is to teeth.”

How witty.

Nowhere in the US is this rather unique belief more prevalent than in the state of Maryland schools.

In Baltimore City – where it’s not unprecedented for half the city’s high school students to attend summer school – some school board officials are calling for the end of grades, arguing that bad or failing grades hurt students with an already fragile self-esteem.

I also told you how some schools have eliminated competition by eliminating scoring in sports. Everybody wins. There are no losers.

Oh happy day, right?

But I’ve got another doozy for you. It’s a phrase that’ll become a permanent fixture in the lexicon of school principle offices everywhere. And you may have heard it here first: It’s called “athletic bullying.”

As you read this, parents of some students are receiving letters from schools.

Their kids are guilty of one thing: Being really good at sports.

One boy who lives in my neighborhood is gifted athletically. Only 10 years old, mind you, he stands nearly 5 feet 2 inches tall, head and shoulders over most of his peers.

As a result, he’s really good at basketball. But according to the school he attends, he’s too good. So much so, the school asked his parents to tell him to essentially “take it down a notch.”

The letter said (paraphrase): “Your son has done nothing wrong. But he does excel in sports. So much so, it borders on ‘athletic bullying.’ This is a good problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Mind you, he’s not violent or verbally abusive to the other children. Quite the contrary. Robert is one of the friendliest students in the class.

However, his athletic ability is so superior to that of the other children, it can be interpreted as ‘intimidating.’ And we don’t want anybody to feel intimidated in gym class. We want everyone to have fun and to participate in all our sports activities.

We suggest that you talk to Robert, and ask him to play to the level of the other kids.”

May I ask a question: Have we lost our minds?!?

If you think this is an isolated incident, think again.

In fact, the academic world is brimming with ideas on how to turn entrepreneurial drive and ambition into a problem and even a disorder.

There is another new term floating around “pop” science circles that will no doubt soon become a part of the mainstream lexicon: “Hypomania.”

Let me ask you an unscientific question: What sets the fervently determined entrepreneur apart from your ordinary worker?

Ten years ago the answer was “a hard work ethic,” or a “burning desire to better themselves.”

But ah, enter science.

According to psychologists, if you’re an entrepreneur, you might have a new disease called “Hypomanic disorder.”

You know the type, sometimes referred to as the Type-A personality, always concocting, inventing, and usually aggressive with a relentless can-do attitude. Their minds are always at work, creating original and super-fueled ideas that tend to turn into big money.

These entrepreneurs may be seen as fast-paced maniacs; riding huge highs and lows, and always willing to take the risk. If you’re a successful over-achiever, the good news is, you’re not manic.

You’re a hypomanic.

Are you:

Flooded with ideas, filled with energy, driven, restless and unable to keep still?

Do You:

Wildly pursue grand ambitions, work with little sleep, feel brilliant, special and perhaps even destined to change to world?

Are You:

Sometimes euphoric, easily irritated by minor obstacles, a risk taker?

Do You:

Overspend money, act out sexually, act impulsively, or talk fast?

Are you:

Witty and gregarious, charismatic and persuasive, a little paranoid?

If so, you might have an inherited psychiatric disorder called Hypomania, according to Johns Hopkins University psychologist, John D. Gartner.

But this ‘disorder’ may account for so many of the great American entrepreneurial endeavors, inventions and advances. I mean, we are the world’s sole Superpower… Do we owe this to the dysfunction ‘Hypomania?’

So why does America seem to have so many so-called “Hypomaniacs?”

According to The Robb Report’s Worth on this particular inherited psychiatric disorder:

“As a group, this edge manifests itself in far-above-average incomes, occupational status and creative achievement. But it is a double-edge sword. Their grandiosity, impulsivity and bad judgment can lead to disaster.”

“Today we work more hours, move more often, earn and spend more money than anyone else on Earth. Americans make up 5% of the world’s population and account for 31% of its economic activity.”

“One possible explanation for this entrepreneurial compulsion lies in our origins. A nation of immigrants represents a highly unusual population. Immigration itself is an entrepreneurial undertaking, risking humans as well as economic capital. People who leap across the sea into the unknown are, by and large, a self-selected group of energetic risk takers.”

“Immigrants have an entrepreneurial temperament, and consistent with this, they are self-employed at rates far higher than native-borns. If their character is genetic, their descendents must inherit it.”

“Thus it is no coincidence that the top three nations in new company creation in the 1990s were the United States, Canada and Israel-all nations of immigrants. If I’m right, the source of our great wealth is our hypomanic genes, gifted to us by our immigrant ancestors.” -John D. Gartner, psychologist at Johns Hopkins University

Hypomania is a mild form of mania, far more common than mania and most likely genetic. Hypomaniacs are not considered lunatics, but they’re not quite considered normal either. They carry with them an impenetrable confidence and feed off of the competition.

This new notion of claiming ambition, creativity, drive and energy as a disorder has my feathers ruffled.

I’m reminded about Kurt Vonnegut, in his short story “Harrison Bergeron.”

He starts “the year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal… Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anyone else.” The more graceful the dancer, the heavier the weights she must wear. The more beautiful the face, the more hideous the mask.

Vonnegut’s main criticism of this way of life is that in a world where everything is equal, there is nothing or no one exceptional. It’s the exceptional things in life that remind us to keep striving, to keep evolving and growing.

It won’t be long before some enterprising pharmaceutical company starts researching and marketing a pill for this so-called “hypomania.” But isn’t this a paradox? Wouldn’t creating a pill for the “disorder,” in itself be an entrepreneurial endeavor? Why don’t you just shoot yourself in the foot?

Here at Wealth Daily, we promote competition in the spirit of evolution and success.

But on a more serious note, in light of this article, where competition is now the current boogey man, how on Earth are new American college graduates going to compete with the Chinese and the Indians is the global marketplace?

That’s subject worthy of more academic study.


Brian Hicks

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