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Self Help vs The Peter Principle: The Limits Of Success?

By Dr Martin W. Russell

Consider this... why is it that so few of us manage to achieve the total success we strive for. Even more than that, why do so many successful people seem to falter and have gaping holes in their success.

I recall a patient who came to see me because she had been depressed for a number of years. As he was talking he mentioned that as he was coming in to see me he passed by an intellectually disabled woman who was smiling from ear to ear. He revealed to me the jealousy he felt over seeing her so wonderfully unaware of all the pressures and failures of the world that weighed so heavily on his mind each and every waking moment.

This lead me to remember a book I had read with the strange title of 'The Peter Principle'. This book goes into the disarmingly simply idea that lack of success is a natural phenomenon, and the Principle itself is that "In A Hierarchy Every Employee Tends To Rise To His (Or Her - my addition) Level Of Incompetence."

The Peter Principle comes from the noticing that by and large, someone is only promoted up a level in an organization if they are competent at their current job. This decision for promotion happens over and over again so that over time the person promoted is taken from one job level to the next until they no longer show enough skill at their current position to be worthy of further advancement. Although they were competent in their previous roles, they now find themselves at their 'Level of Incompetence.'

It's a simple extrapolation from this use of The Peter Principle for organizations to considering its application for individuals. As you go about 'advancing through the levels of success' in your life, you will move on to the next step only by successfully completing the previous one. So you may set out to earn some money, and only if you succeed at that can you have the finances to start out in business. Once in business if you succeed in making money there you can finance investments. If your investments work then you can turn to bigger and bigger projects. But if at any point along the way you find that you are not competent enough to get past that stage, then you are stuck. You're now in a role where you are 'incompetent' despite all your previous successful ventures.

Is this predicament that you find yourself in simply stupidity on your part? Is this the end of the road? Is life playing some cruel trick so that you are forever doomed to come up against obstacles merely sent to try you? Well my answers are No, No, and Sort of.

The Peter Principle explains this pattern, and more importantly allows you to flow with the changes in your life so that you can make the most of every stage. First, keeping The Peter Principle in mind allows you to cease striving merely for the sake of it, and gives you notice to enjoy your competence as you go along through life's journey. Second, you will more fully respect that just as the skills a baby has for walking are useless for the skills it needs to learn for talking, many of the competencies that you develop in life are of no guaranteed help when you enter untested areas of your life, and your future beyond today.


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