Product & Startup Builder

The downside of Hyper Expectations and Ambitions (HEA)

Added on by Chris Saad.

Disclaimer: I’ve personally flirted with much of what I've written about below. This isn’t about anyone else, but rather about what I’ve seen in myself and how some of it could have played out if left unchecked. Thankfully I feel pretty happy and comfortable most of the time - but I find that it helps to write this stuff down to keep myself in check. --

Silicon Valley is a place where people come to change the world. They seek it out and travel great distances to be in the place where entrepreneurial dreams come true.

Even those who first arrive looking for love or lifestyle soon realize that most of the people here have their sights set pretty high and it can be easy to catch the 'change the world' attitude through osmosis.

It's easy to start feeling a sense of Hyper Expectations and Ambition (let’s call it HEA for short).

The challenge with HEA is that it can drive the ill-equipped, mad. By "ill-equipped" I mean those that lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity. And aren't we all guilty of that at various points in our lives?

The landscape here is dotted with people who have something to prove to their past tormentors, their personal ambitions, their peers or some vision of their future selves. If they are not careful, it leaves them no breathing room for cognitive or emotional rest. And as we discovered in Star Trek the Next Generation’s episode “Night Terrors” - without REM Sleep one can have all sorts of nasty outcomes (yes I’m a geek).

HEA is further exasperated by constant streams of social media updates that tend to vacillate from the trite motivational quote to the well curated highlight reel of best parts of ones life. These only serve to make us feel inferior to our friends who always seem to be having a better, easier time.

There are many symptoms of HEA - let me try to share some of them. You might recognize them in yourself or others around you.

FOMO - “Fear of Missing Out’ This is when people are maniacally trying to turn up to every party or meet every ‘right’ person in case this is the one that’s going to change their life or give them the next emotional high.

I’ve been to my share of parties - in fact most of the time I host or co-host them - but for me they are usually an opportunity to spend time with my core group of friends. For some, however, party hopping can become almost an addiction trying to chase the next surreal or successful moment.

The truth is this town is full of amazing moments all the time. They come and go on a daily and weekly basis. When I feel a little FOMO coming on, I try to remember the last scene from American Beauty.

“there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

FOMO is very real and can be exhausting on the body and the mind.

Overcompensating... Because it seems like everyone around here is ‘doing something amazing’ it's easy to develop or trigger an inferiority complex.

Once in that position, the next thing most people do is (consciously or subconsciously) overcompensate in one of two ways...

1. With overconfidence and bluster: Puffing out one's chest, speaking loudly and confidently about stuff that is ill-understood, constructing a success narrative and telling people only exaggerated versions of the truth - these are all examples of what I call Overconfidence and Bluster. The most obvious example of this is the Shirley Hornstein incident, but much more subtle and pervasive versions of this go on everyday in almost every conversation.

Some of the confidence and exaggeration is ok, of course. Speaking prospectively and helping people see your vision for how it could be vs. how it actually is, can help build momentum and positivity. But it can easily get out of control.

2. With drama: In a disturbing number of cases, however, rather than a success narrative, some use drama to get and hold attention. They always have a story of who and how they were wronged by some other person or company.

The truth is getting anywhere will require countless hours and countless setbacks. This is the cost of doing business and part of the hard work of building something valuable. The more efficiently you process and learn from negative interactions (ideally within hours) the better off you are. Ideally you can optimize your own communication and work style to avoid negative interactions all together.

Being honest (and balanced) about this with yourself and others (without going to either extreme) is critical if you're going to survive the marathon. Ultimately the only way to really succeed with your work and your personal life is to do the hard, slow and methodical work it takes to win a little ground every day.

Relationship musical chairs As a natural extension of the first two symptoms, relationships (romantic or otherwise) often suffer. There’s a tendency to get into relationships with one or more of the following undermining thoughts playing in ones mind.

1. Is this the best I can do (FOMO) 2. Could this ruin my reputation (FOMO) 3. I want to focus on my career first (FOMO) 4. They better put in the effort I deserve (Overconfidence and bluster) 5. I need to figure out who I am first (Lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity)

As I’ve written in the past, relationships are hard work. But if worked on with the right person they can create enormous value by laying a foundation that frees up so much emotional and cognitive baggage.

How? Well if root cause for all of these issues is a lack of strong identity or confidence, then relationships are the answer, not the problem. We are how we act consistently - and especially how we treat others we love and care about. There’s no better way to bolster your identity and confidence than to define and declare yourself as someone who treats others well, and demands the same in return.

In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your 'found family' is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.

Depression and Anxiety

As a natural extension to the first three symptoms listed above (and many more I’m sure) we can each experience depression and anxiety in ways that non-entrepreneurs might never be able to appreciate.

Even those of us who are lucky to have great jobs, great apartments and great friends and even while experiencing great joy can find ourselves feeling down.

I know that personally I’ve felt guilty or unproductive when that feeling of contentment creeps in. It freaks me out because I wonder if I'm content, then maybe I'm not aiming high enough. I feel like I need to be striving for something - moving from here to there - to be achieving my next highest potential.

The result of all this can be a battle with depression and/or anxiety. What's worse, because one might be going through FOMO and Overconfidence facades, we often can’t share our battle with anyone else.


Unfortunately I don’t have any answers for all of this.

For myself I try to focus on building better, deeper relationships, attending only those parties and gatherings I find meaningful and remembering that contentment and happiness is part of the point (and reward) of having worked hard for the life I want.

This is, of course, easier said than done.

It’s hard, methodical work and discipline that I imagine will never end. It’s part of my routine just like brushing my teeth or having a shower.

One more thing...

I was going to end this post there, basically with 'no answers', however I now realize that somewhere in the middle I hit upon the most useful tool I've found this year...

In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your 'found family' is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.

Loving (despite flaws) and allowing one self to be loved (by revealing my flaws) has been my principle lesson of this year - it has made the year not just bearable, but successful.

Do you have any other examples of HEA or any other techniques for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your stories below in the comments.