written by
Timothy Fong

The Lures of High-Performance

Mighty 4 min read
Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

What could be wrong with “high-performance”?

After all, at work, wouldn’t everyone prefer to be a high-performer, rather than a low-performer?

When you look for a car to buy, don’t you prefer the “high-performance” car versus one that has, say, “average” performance?

Aren’t the high-performers the ones you respect and admire? Whether it is Elon Musk from tech, Ray Dalio from finance, or any number of world-class athletes — isn’t it their performance, their unparalleled output and achievement that captures your attention, motivates your own effort, or perhaps fills you with envy?

The quest for higher levels of productivity, increasing financial freedom, growing degrees of influence, and greater physical capacity all part of living a high-performance life.

Many men apply this standard for high-performance to their work and careers. They gravitate to jobs that have high expectations because strong performance in those jobs results in greater rewards.

What most men miss when focusing on being and doing better 24/7 is the subtle corrosion this type of lifestyle can often have upon their relations, satisfaction, and soul.

This doesn’t make the jobs necessarily inappropriate or wrong. But it does make them potentially dangerous.

Here’s the overlooked danger: the high-performance mentality easily bleeds into other parts of their life outside of work. For example, if you have a high-performance job where you are constantly judged upon what you have recently delivered at work, you may apply those same high-performance expectations upon your whole self, your spouse, children or your friends.

The corrosiveness of high-performance doesn’t stem from the high quality of output, or even from the often long hours and hard-work to get there.

The subtle corrosion comes from slowly believing that your worth comes from your performance.
Your soul on the high-performance hamster wheel

In other words, this way of thinking and living which, on the surface, leads to success also opens you up to your downfall.

Haven't you heard of the boy who can never meet the high-expectations of the driven father?

Or the successful man who applies his performance-driven approach to work to his own marriage?

Or the man who is always hard on himself on every misstep -- because it's how he is to his teammates?

Or the person who believes he can earn his way to God's approval through work, outward behavior, and financial giving?

High-performance is the seductive anti-thesis to Jesus.

Christ came to provide the greatest possible reward -- reconciliation with God -- through no performance at all, but through grace alone.

Imagine that: getting a huge reward, a lifetime, Kingdom-sized bonus, without working for it. Impossible.

It runs against everything that makes the world as we know it go around.

Satan Tempts with the Lure of Performance

Satan himself when tempting Jesus appealed to the elements of Performance.

The first one is Provision: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Every man feels the need and pressure to “provide” — even if they have way more than enough. So they work harder and reach for ever-higher levels of influence, sometimes in the name of providing "more."

The second one is Protection:

If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Much of our Performance is just to keep climbing higher and higher, without falling. This could be higher status, influence, or just income. Without making a fool of ourself. Without losing to a competitor. Without getting fired.

Performance, especially in these demanding jobs, is fueled by the need to protect oneself.

It could be protecting oneself from something completely imagined, like a sense of failure, or the ghost of the unrelentingly critical father.

But we can still be seeking protection when hiding behind accolades and man-man glory.

Lastly, is Power:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

In a high-performance role, it may mean to have greater span of control, a larger budget, increased public visibility and recognition.

If we dig deep enough, the high-performing jobs that we take on to support our families, to keep ourselves employed, and to give us influence at work also open us to the temptations that go against the very grain for why Christ came to earth.

We yearn for a power that we don't really have.

We try to control our environment to achieve our will, instead of God's.

We want to create a level of comfort because we don't trust God.

These three lures of Provision, Protection, and Power are inescapable if you're living in the real world, especially one where the achievements of the successful and driven surround you and your own workplace demands performance.

So how do we continue to thrive in that environment without losing our soul?

I explores this in the next post: The Antidote to the High Performance Pressures.