During my usual Facebook feed skimming that I seem to do about 20 times a day, I came across an article:
17 Signs You're An Overachiever on HuffingtonPost.com.
It has some valid points, many that I associate with, but I also think it's kind of a bummer. So, in a very un-overachiever like way, I will write a lazy blog post in which I respond directly to these 17 points made by author Amanda L. Chan. Disclaimer: I speak only for myself. I don't think the author's intention was to encompass the entirety of human complexity.
1. It's all about the outcome. "Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves, whereas a high performer is more likely to embrace failure as "part of the process," says John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement."
I struggled with this before I participated in my leadership program. I realized that I was so focused on results/outcomes that I was ignoring the process, and more importantly the relationships. You can't GSD if you don't pay attention to your team, how they are feeling, how they are reacting to you. Also, as an educator, something I learned from my counseling training is that the process, the subtext, what is happening in our minds and hearts during a task or conversation is where the real learning and change happens. You are having a conversation with me, but you are really having a conversation with your mother who never listens to you, or your girlfriend who doesn't appreciate you. You're taking your stuff out on me, I'm taking my stuff out on you. If we stopped to really listen and understand what the other person's emotional or learning needs are, we could really be productive. I give my student workers tasks to do, and yes it is important that a program happens, but what is more important is that they learned something while they are doing it. The outcome is the obvious: a program happened. But the other outcomes are that they learned teamwork, interpersonal skills, time management, and so on. And that is more important than the type of sandwiches we ordered or where we hung the pinata.
2. You live your life in a state of perpetual relief. "Overachievers are far more focused on avoiding failure than they are at achieving a good outcome -- a key differentiator between an overachiever and a high performer."
I would tend to disagree. I think I am relieved when I pull stuff off that I was NOT happy about doing in the first place. Often, we are all forced to do things as part of our job that are not really our choice. When you do something you love, you want to do a good, quality job and in my case, CHANGE LIVES! I want to change lives all day, every day. I do not want to do paperwork, deal with drama, or set up twenty trays of sandwiches. But we all do what we have to do to pay the bills. When I pull off a stressful task that is one of the less thrilling parts of my job, I am relieved. When I teach a student something valuable or see them walk across the stage at graduation, I am PROUD. I think this only applies if you hate what you do and it has no personal value to you.
3. You secretly think you're not good enough. "The other hallmark trait of an overachiever is feelings of self-doubt about one's own competence or ability, Arkin says. While some people will "self-sabotage" when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
This - I will say is 100% true for me. This is that Imposter Syndrome nonsense I referenced in a previous post. You can't fail or everyone will know that deep down you are actually a big fat loser.
4. There is a short list of things you want to be good at -- and that list only includes things you know you'll be judged on. "People who do things for the love of it may have a wide range of things on which they stake their identities, such as hobbies, relationships, work, and the like. "But overachievers narrow that list of things, and they tend to want to be good at all of those things," Arkin says."
I would disagree with this completely and I think that this Arkin fellow believes that overachievers don't do anything because they love it. Can't you love doing things and also want to be good at them? Are there people that love their careers but are content with mediocrity? I don't think valuing your work and being an overachiever are mutually exclusive, as this quote implies. Am I missing the point? Please validate me (j/k).
5. Your significant other is tired of hearing, "I'm sorry honey, but I have to stay at the office late again." "While everyone has to cancel on commitments because of work from time to time, overachievers are more likely to do this than others. And it doesn't even have to be a social event with friends or family -- an overachiever may also be more likely to skip something as simple as exercise in order to finish what they feel they need to do, Eliot says."
Guilty as charged. I try to leave on time, but every now and then I get on a roll and there is no stopping me. Other days, I'm like "Peace out Bitches" at 5:30 on the dot. I guess it depends on my mood or how much coffee I've had that day. I will say that leaving on time, taking a lunch break, and walking away from my desk are all concerted efforts on my part. I think having proved myself and feeling more confident and secure in my reputation at work has led to more work-life balance and less guilt over clocking out, taking breaks and even taking vacation time.
6. Criticism is the worst. "It all goes back to the fear of failure -- overachievers' public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something, Arkin says."
I think this is unfair (or is this whole article feeling like criticism and this Arkin fellow is spot-on?). I don't think anyone in their right mind enjoys being criticized. I suppose some people are better at accepting constructive feedback than others. I actually crave it. Too much praise freaks me out because it raises the bar and creates anxiety that I can't possibly live up to this "perfect" image that people have of me. I think a good balance of praise and feedback is necessary so that you don't get a huge ego, or completely crumble if you get negative feedback. It is very hard to not care about what other people think of you, and you shouldn't base your self-esteem completely on the opinions of others. However, I think it's good to check yourself, have good self-awareness, and take the good with the bad. My coach used the phrase "it would be better if" to provide criticism, and this re-frames it as a developmental opportunity rather than a "failure." No one is perfect, learning is lifelong, and we can always improve.
7. You're very future-focused."Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future -- and as a result, often neglect the present."
Is anyone focused on the present? We're all trying to meditate and yoga our way into being more centered and in the present. Our society is moving faster than ever and the Interwebs and all its social media is fueling our ever nagging need for instant gratification and the next generation of iPhone. But who isn't planning for the future? From middle school on, we're coached into preparing for college. In college, for careers; in careers for retirement. You get married and before you even cut the cake, people want to know how soon you plan on reproducing. I would love to find a person who is not thinking about the next step. Isn't that what professional development is? I really don't think that this is exclusive to overachievers, but more so a condition of our modern society.
8. You feel anxious a lot. "If there's one mental trait that's highly correlated with being an overachiever, it's anxiety. It goes back to the future-focused mindset: Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress."
Okay, you got me there. I think that the key to battling anxiety is some of the changes I've made in my mindset. Focusing on the process in addition to the outcome, not being so self-critical, and taking breaks, lunches, and vacations have all helped me quell my persistent sense of dread. I also learned from my coaching and some nifty personality tests that I am a natural born worrier. I can't change who I am, but I can certainly use my self-awareness to make positive changes in the aspects of my life that I CAN control. Isn't that what that Serenity Prayer is all about? Maybe in our hearts, overachievers are just control freaks and we need to just let go a little bit.
9. You just got promoted, but you're already thinking about how you'll achieve the next promotion. "Because it's so hard for overachievers to just live in the present, the joy that comes from something like a job promotion can be cut short by thoughts about what's next. "They're never satisfied," Eliot says. In addition, overachievers are more likely to value being promoted regardless of how they got it, "even if it's at the expense of a coworker or if they didn't really earn it," Eliot says. "Maybe they talked their way into it, or they took their boss out for dinner enough times. People look at that and say, 'You didn't really earn that.' But a classic overachiever doesn't care -- only achievement matters."
UM - DISAGREE. I speak only for myself, of course, but I don't think wanting to do well means that you don't want to do things the right way. Isn't the whole idea of achieving that you are earning something? And even taking your boss out to dinner, doesn't that show initiative and networking skills? This point makes no sense to me. Then again, maybe there are multiple types of overachievers - cutthroat self-promoters and those who actually want to make a difference.
Furthermore, for me, the idea of being promoted is terrifying because it's another chance to fail. It goes back to that Imposter Syndrome and perhaps a lack of confidence. I find myself saying "Why do they keep promoting me?" more often than "I can't wait to be promoted." It's nice to be successful and professionally desirable, but it's also nice to get comfortable and feel a sense of mastery before you're on to the next seemingly insurmountable challenge.
10. You're a perfectionist. "There's a strong correlation between being a perfectionist and being an overachiever -- and this doesn't only apply to the workplace. Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home, Eliot says."
I would tend to agree with this. Perfectionism is in essence a display of a fear of failure. However, this point neglects the cultural and societal factors that lead people to stress themselves out and work themselves to death. The economy is in shambles, there is zero workplace loyalty on both the employee and employer ends, and both partners and parents, and let's not forget single parents, have to work outside the home to make ends meet. There is incredible pressure on women to "do it all" and have perfect hair and makeup while they do it.
As it relates to me, I definitely feel like I need to work on not basing my self-worth or value on the opinions of others. I know this is a life-long struggle for me and I'm getting better every day, but it is not something where you can snap your fingers and suddenly not give a crap about what other people think. In this society of FOMO, extreme celebrity scrutiny, and leaning in, we are basically being brainwashed into judging other people's lifestyle choices, sexuality, finances, parenting skills, you name it.
11. You're the first one in the office, and the last one to leave. "Overachievers are more likely to work long hours -- sometimes without people knowing about it -- because they want to be perceived as capable of doing it all, Arkin says."
I can't see how this is much different than point #5, other than instead of pointing out that people skip more important life activities like family time and exercise, it's saying that people work more than others to be perceived as more capable. This particular point reminds me of the alleged millennial entitlement mindset. When you are starting out, shouldn't you work longer and harder in order to prove yourself? Not everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up! In the spirit of not being judgy, however, I will say that you should define what "success" means for you. If you are content with doing enough to avoid being fired, then who am I to tell you otherwise? I am actually a bit jealous of people who are content with the status quo. Maybe this applies to the aforementioned cutthroat self-promoters who do not actually value their work. Or maybe it's for those folks for whom work is just a paycheck and they get their fulfillment elsewhere. Trying not to be judgy (I didn't say it was easy!)
12. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs. "Many overachievers share similar backgrounds: They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices -- all in the name of a strong college application. "That's a classic kid getting into an overachievement mindset," Eliot says."
Guilty. I was President of French Club and the French Honor Society (une perfectionniste). I was in 10 clubs, literally. But you know what? I freaking enjoyed it! I loved being involved. It gave me a sense of community, and I learned awesome skills. In college I was in SGA and the Feminist Coalition. I was an RA and an Orientation Leader and I did tons of volunteer work. I liked it so much, I do it as a career now and try to get the next generation to want to do these things too. In the back of my mind, those extrinsic rewards like "resume builder" and "leadership skills" appealed to me, and I dangle them in front of my students on the daily, but at the end of the day, it was fun for me. I enjoyed myself and I felt rewarded.
13. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions. "All parents, to some extent, feel the need to "do it all" for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big -- attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child's teacher -- because they care so much about being the best parents. "It's a sort of self-worth exercise for parents in being valued as good parents," Eliot says. "There's a feeling of, 'I have to do all this stuff so I feel good about myself as a parent, so my self-esteem as a parent is high.' "
Obviously, I can only speculate what type of parent I will be one day. I can talk all I want now about how I won't fall into this "Parent of the Year" competition mindset but I could be super wrong. Judge not lest ye be judged, people.
Furthermore, just because I am this way, I cannot expect my kid to be the same. My mom was hoping I would be a gymnast and cheerleader just like her, and instead she got a nerdy overachiever who read books on the playground. She shook her head in awe at the person I turned out to be, yet she loved and supported me all the way to grad school. If my kid turns out to be the total opposite of me, I have to just love and accept them, like my mom did for me.
14. You gravitate toward commission-based jobs. "This includes real-estate agents, stock-traders and salespeople. "It's push, push, push sort of work," Eliot says. That's not to say overachievers are exclusively in commission-based jobs. In any field, an overachiever is the one taking on extra work as an indicator of productivity."
I can't relate directly to this, but in the past I have had a hard time saying no. I got put on tons of committees and became the "go-to person" for a lot of random crap that is not in my job description because I had an innate talent for it. I had to learn to say no and not feel guilty.
15. You keep score in your relationship. "You may not be writing it down, but you're probably keeping track of who's doing what to contribute to a relationship, Eliot says."
I don't think this is unique to overachievers. Who doesn't do this? Especially with chores around the house. Furthermore, women disproportionately do housework and parenting work, even with husbands that contribute. It's probably because we don't let them (because they'll screw it up, right?), or society has let them off the hook. Either way, no one wins if you tit for tat with who did the dishes or took out the garbage. You also should not do it with past grievances. When you keep score, nobody wins. Let. It. Go.
Taking it up a level, who doesn't compare themselves to other couples and keep score? I blame Facebook - every time I see a beautiful bouquet from "my amazing boyfriend" or "best husband ever" or blingy jewelry, I have to check myself. I love my husband and it is not a competition with other women for most adoring spouse. You cannot play the comparison game. Maybe she got that necklace or flowers because they got in a huge fight. We share the best parts of our lives online so it looks like everything is more perfect than it actually is.
Maybe I should write a relationship blog also?
16. Crunch-time is the worst time. "That's because you as an overachiever are often your own worst enemy. When the stakes are high, "the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they're so concerned with the outcome," Eliot says."
I think this has more to do with rushing than anything else. This is why I ask for a second set of eyes on a high-stakes assignment.
17. You may be more likely to stay in an unhappy marriage. "Overachievers hate failure, and failure is failure, whether it's work or a relationship. For that reason, overachievers are more likely to stay in a marriage they know is doomed because they're concerned about how they'll be perceived if their marriage were to fail, Eliot says."
This makes me sad. I think I stayed in bad relationships in the past because the person was my project and I felt like I would be a failure if I didn't change them and make them better. You think of all the time you sunk into this person and that if you walk away, it will all have been for nothing. You were "so close" to molding them into the perfect man! Don't stop now! When in reality, they were never going to change and you were 100% wasting your time. I've never looked at relationships through this lens, but I could certainly see how it applies. I was focusing on the outcome, rather than the process, which was one in which I was being treated like crap. Touche, Dr. Eliot.
Obviously, the points made in this article are not one size fits all. If anything, they illustrate that our entire society is one big Overachiever, and it really needs to work on itself. Aside from being character flaws on an individual level, these are symptoms of a world obsessed with perfection and a media that revels in knocking people (politicians, celebrities, you name it) off their pedestal. We love a good nervous breakdown (Leave Britney alone!) and we love a good comeback.
The bottom line is, set your own standards, live your own truth, and do the best you can. Because we are all just doing the best we can with what we've got - and that's okay.
You can start healing this problem one person at a time. That's right, you heard me: Start with the Man in the Mirror. Go a little easier on yourself. Stop being so judgmental, give yourself a break. Just remember to pay it forward next time you are feeling a little judgy.
Nice to meet you!
I am a tech pro, blogger, DIY'er, reader, TV binger, music lover, nerd and semi-crunchy mom. I write about professional development, being crafty, motherhood and politics. Thanks for joining me and letting me share my thoughts with you!