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The Shadow Side of Greatness: When Success Leads to Failure, by James Clear

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Picasso lived for a total of 33,403 days. He was tremendously productive, hurting his relationships.

With 26,075 published works, that means Picasso averaged 1 new piece of artwork every day of his life from age 20 until his death at age 91. He created something new, every day, for 71 years.

This unfathomable output not only played a large role in Picasso’s international fame, but also enabled him to amass a huge net worth of approximately $500 million by the time of his death in 1973. His work became so famous and so numerous that, according to the Art Loss Register, Picasso is the most stolen artist in history with over 550 works currently missing.


Many of the qualities that make people great have shadow sides as well. Picasso’s singular focus on art meant that everything else in life had to take a back seat, including his relationships and his children.

The idea that strengths have tradeoffs, especially extreme versions of strengths, holds true in nearly every field.

The fact that you cannot escape the downsides of your strengths brings us to an interesting decision point. People often talk about the success they aspire to in life, but as author Mark Manson writes, the most important question to ask yourself is not, “What kind of success do I want?”, but rather, “What kind of pain do I want?”


Success in one area is often tied to failure in another area, especially at the extreme end of performance. The more extreme the greatness, the longer the shadow it casts.

To phrase it differently, the more one dimensional your focus, the more other areas of life suffer. It’s the four burners theory in action. The more you turn up one burner, the more you risk others burning out.

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