The Downsides of Being an Overachiever
In many aspects of my life, I’m lucky enough to have achieved a lot.
I’m happy in a loving relationship with my partner of five years. I’m the proud parent of two gorgeous cats who are low-key Insta famous. I earn a significant chunk of change by blogging, and I’m valued at work for my inputs and contributions at a high level of the company.
I say I’m lucky — and as a thin, white woman who was born into the upper-middle class, a lot of it is luck. But I’ve also worked hard for my achievements. I’ve never been happy with the average, and I’ve always chased success.
Now, as a professional, I mark my accolades in promotions, followers, or life milestones. But this goes back to when I was in school — I always scored highly on standardized tests, I was a Grade-A teacher’s pet; I got into a good university.
But to me, the most valuable thing I’m constantly pursuing is satisfaction. And I’m worried I’ll never find it.
Overachieving has its downsides.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to dream bigger, reach higher, try harder, by my parents, teachers and peers. As an adult, I take on that job myself, challenging myself to never be content with what I have.
Overachievers will know what I’m talking about:
As soon as we accomplish a goal, we’re already working on how to get the next milestone. We don’t pause to take stock and be grateful of what we have, and we can’t take a break to bask in our successes. The second we reach a new count of followers, or get a promotion, or earn a certain amount, we’re thinking about what we can do next to get another “tick.”
I have to actively take breaks.
For lunch, I physically have to step away from my desk, or else I’ll just keep working. At night, I have to close my laptop and pick up a book, or else I’ll check my emails “just in case.” I proactively turn off notifications, so I can stop constantly comparing and judging myself, feeling elated or demoralized with every new notification.
When I go to sleep at night, my mind whirls with story ideas. I have to keep my phone at a certain physical distance, because if not, I will go to Evernote to write down just one more idea before I sleep. But it’s never just one.
It’s so hard to let go of those ideas, to tell myself it’s more important to sleep well than to capture every single fleeting idea that scuds across my sleepy subconscious brain. Sleep is for people who can rest, I tell myself, and I’m not there yet. After all, there are still people with more followers, more fans, more money from writing than me.
If I’ve published two stories in a day already but I have free time, I feel guilty if I don’t fill it with writing. Breaks are never truly earned, because work is never truly done.
The goalposts are in a constant state of flux.
For example, if my aim is to earn $1,000 per month with hobbies and side hustles, when I get that far, I’m planning on how to get $1,500.
If I manage to write two stories per day, I’m thinking about how to write three.
If my goal is to reach 5,000 followers, you can bet that by the time I get there, I’ll be considering what I can do better, faster, more effectively.
Even when I discover a process or trick to optimize my performance, something that lets me achieve what I was achieving before, with half the effort, I never let it sit there. That’s just a springboard to doing even more.
I’m always running at 100 mph.
And while that drive has given me a lot in life, it’s also made me unhappy, ungrateful, dissatisfied. It makes me feel like my best efforts are never quite enough.
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” — The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
If I can see someone who’s doing better than me, then the job’s not done. And through the growing influence of social media, there is always someone who’s doing better than me.
I hate to sound like I’m complaining about being motivated but for a long time, I couldn’t see the difference in plain motivation, and feeling like I was never good enough, and never would be good enough no matter how hard I tried.
I’ve been trying to “adult” for a while, and I’m hoping it gets easier.
Until then, I’m going to remember to take a deep breath and let myself relax without comparisons, without thinking of the to-do lists still to be written, without worrying that I’m falling behind a finish line that’s always going further away.