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.
But to me, the most valuable thing I’m constantly pursuing is satisfaction. And like a lot of high-level, class-A overachievers, 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 for 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 success in the bag.
Taking breaks is a necessary activity.
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. How can I get 10,000? And 20,000 after that?
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 and be glad that I can do as much with less effort and more free time. That’s just a springboard to doing even more.
I’m always running at 100 miles an hour.
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. If I can see someone who’s ahead of me, I can’t rest yet. And if someone is more successful than I am, in any metric, then I’ll be damned if I start feeling happy about my own achievements.
Through the growing influence of social media, there is always someone who’s doing better than me, working harder, hustling more.
I hate to sound like I’m complaining about being motivated to pursue success because I know that motivation is what a lot of people strive for. But there’s a subtle distinction.
For a long time, I couldn’t see the difference in plain motivation, which is obviously good and rewarding, and feeling like I was never good enough, and never would be good enough no matter how hard I tried.
I couldn’t find the line between being motivated by others’ successes and being demoralized.
I still haven’t quite found the distinction.
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.
It’s possible to achieve without competition; it’s possible to be happy about my own successes without fear I’m getting complacent. And one day, I’ll figure out how.