Why do overachievers self-destruct? A very thought-provoking article from Subroto Bagchi that examines the problem and offers the antidote: humility.
It's funny, the world does an excellent job of beating humility into "average" people. By age thirty, you have been told by a good number of people exactly is wrong with you and why you won't succeed in life. Sometimes you may even start to believe that talk, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Overachievers have the opposite problem: they are elevated to demigod status by their teachers/coaches/bosses/agents. Every victory was ordained, every success was predestined because they were just that good. Consider Michael Phelps, or Kenneth Lay, or Tiger Woods, or the millions of shooting stars in the business or sports firmament. They all began well. Their early victories were forged with hard work, discipline, self-sacrifice and sheer force of will. Success soon arrived, followed by fame. They had it all and the media and the fans and friends and family believed they would never fail.
But then they imploded. One tiny lapse, then another, and another... pretty soon the foundation of their success turned into rubble. Maybe they just didn't want to pay the price of success anymore - after all, it is heavy. Or maybe they felt like they didn't need to pay it anymore.
Sometimes you get lucky and an external event or competitor brings you down to earth. Federer ruled the men's tennis world until Nadal came along, followed by Djokovic. Their mutual competition has kept them all humble and hard at work, and the level of tennis is breathtaking to behold. In contrast, Tiger Woods stood alone at the peak and subsequently self-destructed. A tough competitor or a handicap can be the best thing that ever happens to you. It keeps the fire burning in the belly.
You should treat success like a landlord who demands a steep rent. If you stop paying, you will get booted out, no matter how much you've paid in the past. If you start feeling like things are getting too easy at work, if nothing raises that anxiety/excitement in your gut any more, watch out. Watch out. You may be headed for a fall.