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"If you're not humble, life will visit humbleness upon you."

--Mike Tyson

Quoted in The New York Observer and The Week

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

"(an) apparent belief that being ... famous frees (one) from any duty of courtesy or simple respect toward those who are not. It is a delusion implicit in the very fabric of our culture, in its uncritical worship of the red carpet, the spotlight and the panacea of fame is a delusion nevertheless."

--Leonard Pitts, The Courier Journal, April 23, 2015

"We must learn to manage success."

--Dr. Casimir Kowalski

Former Dean of Education

South Carolina State University

"The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

--William James

Regarded as the Father of American Psychology

Crossing The Line

Many individuals fail to learn the value of self-restraint, humility and common courtesy because the light of their own perceived extraordinary self-worth has blinded them, often leading to a permanent "fall from grace."

We all crave recognition and SUCCESS. Too many times, parents heap excessive expectations and praise on young children for academic and/or athletic achievement. However, if parents and others in authority are teaching youngsters to seek special recognition and adulation, without also teaching them humility, the question prevails, "Could this become a liability in the future?"

It is difficult today to open various periodicals and other venues without observing athletes or other celebrities having crossed the line, going to prison or paying a hefty penalty for behavior considered "unbecoming" of the individual.

From the time we are children, human beings learn to covet success in its various forms, possibly because, in addition to wealth, success usually inspires adulation, praise, celebrity status--even worship.

To say the least, handling such attention can be difficult, often leading to psychological problems rarely anticipated in the journey to success, especially considerable success, audaciously confirmed by ambitious parents, agents and a worshiping public (Halpera, 2001). Hence, for these individuals, the usual rules of decorum are modified or ignored--in essence, perceived as their right to break them.

Without proper counsel from parents, wise mentors, and other individuals who either have "been there," or can perceive the negative consequences awaiting them (Rockwell, 2014), many who achieve such success develop an oversized ego fueled by arrogance and self-aggrandizement (Benedict & Yeager, 1998), fostering thoughts such as:

* "I'm smarter than everybody else."

* "I'm too important to be censored or even criticized--they can't stop me."

* "I've worked very hard to get here and I deserve to enjoy whatever I want."

* "Nobody deserves this more than I do, and what can possibly happen if I go for it?"

* "Whatever I decide to do is untouchable; the public will never know it, and those who are making a bundle from my success won't dare tell."

* "I can get away with anything. I'm so talented and smart I don't need to follow the rules others have to follow. I set my own rules and follow them."

* "I'm entitled to do whatever I please, and smart enough to get away with it."

* "I can buy anything I want, buy off anyone, and live my life exactly as I want. What's breaking a few rules anyway?"

In reality, this kind of thinking is dangerous for those who engage in it. The result is HUBRIS-self-obsessed, selfish, narcissistic behavior, perceptual blindness, and an exaggerated self-endorsement that leads to lack of conscience. Such individuals think nothing of breaking the law, crossing social boundaries, and ignoring legitimate stakeholders. They treat others with disdain and disrespect as though "others " are inferior in intellect, talent and status (Kluger, 2014).

Eventually, this exalted sense of entitlement brings many an individual to his/her knees. Who among us can continue to succeed with an attitude lacking in self-examination, self-restraint and HUMILITY! Such individuals almost always end up mistreating others--not only strangers, but adoring patrons, friends, and even loving family members who sacrificed much to support and promote their success (Teitelbaum, 2010; Webber, 2016). Conscience rarely (if ever) kicks in until and unless this "successful" individual has been diminished or destroyed by tragedy, scandal, controversy, shame, or even death--the individual's or that of others.

Various media sources confirm accounts of individuals whose sense of entitlement and its reinforcement have led to HUBRIS-gonewild, an almost predictable sequence in the suicide of their astounding potential. During the fall from grace, there is a loss of position, reputation, self-respect, respect from others and, in some cases, even the loss of freedom.

Below are the names of a few prominent, once-successful individuals, listed in the media, whose HUBRIS has allegedly led them to cross the line, creating negative consequences they rarely expected. For example:
Lance Armstrong    Bicycling champion

Jim Bakker         PTL televangelist

Barry Bonds        Professional baseball player

Bill Cosby         TV and film actor/celebrity

John Edwards       N.C. Senator and former presidential

Richie Farmer      Former All-American basketball
                   player and elected politician

Tim Giardini       Navy Vice-Admiral

Aaron Hernandez    Professional football player

Marion Jones       Olympic Gold Medal winner

Debbie Linden      Super Model

Ryan Lochte        Olympic swimmer

Johnny Manziel     Heisman Trophy winner

Britt McHenry      ESPN reporter, cable sports

David Petraeus     U.S. Army Four-star General

Adrian Peterson    Professional football player

Ray Rice           Professional football player

Mark Sanford       Former Governor of South

Maria Santos       Brazilian model

O.J. Simpson       Professional football player and

Elliot Spitzer     Former Governor of New York

Jimmy Swaggart     Evangelist

Anthony Weiner     American politician and former
                   member of U.S. House of Representatives
                   from NYC

Tiger Woods        Celebrated golfer

These individuals, and others too numerous to mention here, generally have demonstrated:

* An "I don't care" attitude.

* A lack of self-awareness.

* A lack of self-study/self-examination.

* A lack of conscience.

* A lack of empathy toward others.

* A lack of sensitivity and intuition regarding consequences of their behavior.

* A lack of interest in any information that might prevent their getting whatever they want, regardless of who might be hurt.

* A failure to acknowledge negative consequences their destructive behavior has on others.

* A refusal to listen to advice or even ideas from others.

* A sanctified sense of entitlement.

The Need For Praise

Praise (approval/recognition) is good--a powerful human need (Nevid & Rathus, 2010) for positive emotional development. But what does too much praise do, especially when heaped upon a developing child, adolescent or even an adult?

For example, we see reports akin to this:
   Star high school athlete reports the list
   of college scholarship offers has risen
   to 18; recruiters are after her.

   Five-star athlete hopes to narrow list

   First year professional athlete signs a
   $65 million dollar contract.

How does a young person handle this kind of zealous attention and all that goes with it? Such adulation becomes negative for all concerned when the sought-after individual begins getting away with unacceptable behavior because others simply look the other way--or don't care (Shipnuck, 2016).
   Aaron Hernandez stated, "So long
   as you are succeeding on the field, it
   doesn't matter what you're doing off
   it." Hernandez, at 24 years of age, was
   holding a $40 million dollar contract.
   At 25, he was convicted of murder and
   is now behind bars. "What a ridiculous
   and senseless waste," wrote Nancy
   Arnow in USA TODAY. Arnow stated
   in Kentucky's Courier Journal (April
   16, 2015) a "toxic mix of ego, excess
   brings Hernandez down." Hernandez
   died a suicide in 2017.

An NFL star, a leader in rushing, ran afoul of the law and was given 5 years probation and required to attend literary classes. The judge, in his case, asked how he went to the well-known university where he played football. His response--"I didn't have to go to class. It was all about how good you are and I was one of the best" (Ganim, 2014).

How does one develop a conscience, or feelings of remorse, or a sense of shame for behaving badly, when the fawning praise of others confirms the even stronger feelings of egotism? Short answer--not much growth or positive change occurs! Instead, a swaggering sense of entitlement develops, eventually leading to more arrogant, over-the-line, disgustingly offensive behavior! We learn "excesses" have become the perceived birthright of star athletes and other renowned celebrities. Unfortunately, a kind of worshipful forgiveness seems accorded those considered most beautiful/handsome, or renowned, as well as those who can obtain lower golf scores, run faster, jump higher, score more points, touchdowns or home runs. Unconditional adulation encourages the delusion a celebrity is permitted to break rules and laws others must follow.


Let's consider successful people who do not develop the above behaviors. One strong characteristic is their sense of humility. They simply do not parade their successes, money, power or influence before others. They are neither ashamed of, nor arrogant about, their achievements or successes. Their egos are under control. In all likelihood, they have had ample input from wise parents, family, coaches, teachers, professors, religious leaders and other mentors, all of whom helped them appreciate and enjoy their success with a healthy perspective. In short, they have learned to manage success instead of allowing success to manage them. One example is football/ TV-great Frank Gifford, who was described by Dan Dierdorf, a Pro-Football Hall of Fame member, as "a man who, in every sense of the word, is a gentleman."

Individuals hearing such advice during early achievements and recognition tend to develop a strong sense of humility and self-restraint which usually prevents or curtails the unwholesome development of HUBRIS, no matter how remarkable their achievements.

A Proposed Formula

After many years of working with individuals in the social, economic, and intellectual spectrum, the authors have developed a formula that might assist in understanding just how success (particularly great success) and Hubris often combine to produce deadly consequences. The formula follows:

SWH = HB [right arrow] PC/P/D

Interpretation: (S) Success--(W) Without (H) Humility often leads to (HB) Hubris, which then usually leads to (PC) Poor Choices, and ultimately (P) Peril and often (D) Destruction.

The Model and Predicting Failure

As stated earlier, most people crave success/ approval from the time they are born (Lombardi, 1975). An adage from the field of education seems to capture the essence of the value of success: There is nothing quite as successful as success! When individuals experience continued success applauded by family, friends and others, it is difficult to control the celebrated individual's obsessive hunger for more and more adulation. Parents, teachers, coaches and other such mentors must offer some regulating guidance that will result in a sense of humility and self-restraint in the achiever. Otherwise, disastrous results loom. Success without humility almost assures there can be little to control the appetite for idolatrous praise and attention. The resulting Hubris will prompt the celebrated individual to believe he or she is virtually invincible and can engage in unlawful and even shockingly shameful behavior without censure or consequences. Hence, the path to peril and destruction is virtually assured.

Often, media attention is focused on young entertainers and trophy-winning athletes, many of whom seem to be on paths of considerable peril to themselves and others. Too often, their behavior indicates the absence of self-examination, self-restraint and humility. Stanley H. Teitelbaum (2010), psychologist and author, reasoned it is unfortunate that after winning all those gold medals, these young stars cannot purchase some common sense. Clinical Psychologist Donna Rockwell related one of the celebrities with whom she has counseled admitted having been addicted to every substance known to human beings, and Rockwell concluded, " the most addictive of them all is FAME."


Craving attention and avoiding loneliness are among the most profound needs of human beings. The desire for recognition and achievement is a lifelong struggle for all humans. However, what amount of attention and recognition is enough? Is it possible to receive considerable recognition and admiration and remain level-headed and in control of our emotions and needs, as opposed to developing a monstrous ego, demanding more and more of everything.

This article has attempted to look at success, its attributes and perils, and the path taken by many that has led to their destruction--and even to their death. To simplify the matter, the authors developed a formula to put this behavior into perspective to encourage more attention to the dark side of success.

These are just general perspectives, not the total answer. However, the authors have placed them into the hands of readers for improvement, refinement, or even debate.

Note: this article could not have been written without the contributions of the late Jody Johnson, Bowling Green, KY, and Fred Lynn Clark, Ph.D., retired professor, Western Kentucky University.


Emeritus Provost and Vice President/Academic Affairs, Western Kentucky University


Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Western Kentucky University


Syracuse Eight Football


Benedict, J., & Yaeger, D.C. (1998). Pros and cons. The criminals who play in the NFL. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Ganim, S. (2014, p.10). College jocks who read like children. The Week.

Halpern, I. (2001). Bad and beautiful. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.

Kluger, J. (2014). The narcissist next door. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Lombardi, D.C. (1975). Search for significance. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers.

Rockwell, D. (2014, May 13) Fame is a dangerous thing. Huffington Post.

Shipnuck, A. (2016, April 4). What happened? Sports Illustrated, 28-37.

Teitelbaum, S.H. (2010). Athletes who indulge their dark side: Sex, drugs and cover-ups. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers.

Webber, R. (2016). The real narcissists. Psychology Today, 49, 53-61.
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Author:Burch, Barbara; Cangemi, Joseph P.; Allen, Greg
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 20, 2017

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