What is a High-Flyer?

Mary McMahon

A high-flyer is a person who has achieved notable success or distinction in a very short period of time. The term is also used to describe stocks which have performed unusually well, often with the implication that these stocks are extremely volatile, and they can crash just as easily as they can rise. High-fliers can be found in many societies and locations, from academia to the world of business, and many of them are very focused, driven people who prefer to think that they achieved their success on merit, whether or not this is the case.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The origins of this term lie in the writing of Richard Harvey, a British author who wrote in 1590 that people had a universal desire to be seen as “high-fliers and deep swimmers.” He meant the term in an uncomplimentary way, suggesting that a high-flyer was someone who was reaching too high, too fast, and that a tumble from the heavens was probable. Other writers around the same period referenced the Greek myth of Icarus, a famous high-flyer who reached the Sun and tumbled to Earth when he was burned.

Harvey's view of the high-flyer was by no means unusual for the time. Many people in this period felt that, with the exception of a few notable figures, it was better to work quietly and hard on projects than to be seen as too focused on advancement. Many notable figures of the period also ascribed to this idea, viewing humility as a trait to be valued above pride and referring to themselves as “dabblers” in the fields where they excelled.

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Today, the usage of the term is mixed. Some people do use it as a compliment, with the idea of commemorating rapid success and promoting the idea that people can succeed through hard work. Other people use it with a note of suspicion, suggesting that the only way to become a high-flyer is through connections, and that a meteoric rise should be viewed with skepticism, rather than awe or respect. It can also be used in the original sense, to describe someone who has risen too quickly, putting him or herself at risk of a nasty fall.

A related term, high-flown, is used to describe bloated, hyperbolic prose or claims. High-flown language is language which uses a lot of big words to say nothing in particular, or a speech in which promises which cannot be kept are pledged. This related term clearly references the 16th century origins of the high-flyer.

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Discussion Comments


@tanner182 - If stock marketers knew how to predict crashes, things would be a lot different.

My best advise to you is to think of the stock market like the weather. Unless you know what the clouds mean -- you aren't likely to know if it will rain or not.

Research the stocks that you are buying and keep a close eye on interests of buyers and sellers. Say you bought stock in a new diet drink -- research how many companies are selling diet drinks, buyer trends and so on. It's basic stock knowledge to research -- but it can make or break your success in the stock market.

You can usually see a tiny decline before a stock crashes. Hope that helps you along.


I've just been getting into the stock market and I have had a lot of high-flyers (on a small scale). I keep having stocks rocket up really high compared to their regular value and then crash shortly afterward.

Now I've been getting into the habit of selling them early, but they still go up some afterwards for awhile before they crash again. Is there any way of telling when a stock has hit its peak value? So far I haven't lost a lot of money, but it would be nice to learn how to get those last few percents before I sell.

Any help would be great!


@zeak4hands - To me, being a high-flyer means someone who has the success, but that didn't work hard to get it. Celebrities that have kids usually spoil their children, who think that they are as successful as their parents are.

The kids are high-flyers -- because they took their parents fame and have only put in a fraction of the time and work that their parents have. They have all the success without the work.

A celebrity like the singer Katy Perry is not a high-flyer to me. She worked long and hard to become even remotely successful.

I'm not a high-flyer myself. I work hard, but I don't want a giant career. I like to spend time with my family, so as long as I have a steady job -- I don't want to rocket to success.


When I use the term high-flyer, I mean it in a good way. To me, it means someone who has worked hard and achieved a lot of success in a short amount of time.

I have a friend that I call a high-flyer because she finished college early, started her business early on and has been successful ever since. She is extremely focused and works very hard to keep her business up and running.

I think that achieving success quickly is a good thing, but I know that most celebrities that are high-flyers (work hard and quickly rocket to super stardom) crash and burn after only a few years.Being successful takes a lot of courage and work.

If someone wants to be a high-flyer, make sure you understand how much work you have to devote to your success. Also, how much stress and change you might have to live with.

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