Are you an overachiever?
Mary is a high functioning, highly competent school principal who is always running at 500 miles per hour. She has three young children of her own too! Balancing the demands of running a school, getting her kids to their after school activities, and trying to get a healthy meal on the table is a constant juggling act. Lately, though, it seems like she is feeling more tired, emotional, and ragged by the end of each day.
Mary’s challenge—she feels that she has to live up to everyone’s expectations! She always says yes to every request. When she can’t, she feels disappointed in herself.
She wants to please her boss, her teachers, her staff, parents, her kids, and her husband. She feels that she “should” be able to do everything. She grew up in a family with “can do” parents, who seemed to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. They were the original “buck up and get the job done” folks. Mary feels bad about herself. Why can’t she manage to do more? Why can’t she keep all the balls in the air? Why does she feel like such a failure?
It’s a common problem among “over-achievers”, a label I never completely understood until recently. I wondered—“What’s the down side of high achievement?” Of course getting great grades in life is fine. Who doesn’t feel good about getting an A or a high five for a great job? But what’s the price? Some adults and kids always have to do more to feel worthwhile, capable, and appreciated. Nothing is ever good enough.
Typically, these individuals grew up in families where high achievement was the norm. Good grades were celebrated and high performance was rewarded. Anything less than top marks were ignored. These children paired love with achievement. The result can produce adults who feel like performing seals. It can be a recipe for low self-esteem, depression, and shame.
So what can over-achievers do?
- Determine what’s really important to you. Most over-achievers do, do, and do without awareness of why they’re doing what they do. They are looking for love and appreciation in all of the wrong places. Instead, consider what you value. What concerns are at the center of your life?
- Learn how to take care of yourself. Over achievers are always taking care of others and frequently neglect themselves. They tell themselves they’re “too busy” and “have too much to do” to take care of themselves. Remember—you are just as important as everyone else—no more and no less.
- You are not in this world to live up to other’s expectations. You weren’t born with a sticker on your forehead that said your job was to live up to everyone’s expectations! Your job is to be the person that you aspire to be. Who is that person?
- Establish realistic expectations of yourself. I like to do a great job on everything I do. But is that reasonable? What is a “good enough” job? What needs more time and what could be just fine with less time? There is nothing wrong with having high expectations of yourself, as long as they are realistic and sustainable.
- Learn how to say no. Some adults feel like they have to say yes to everyone! But ask yourself—how important is their request? Do I really want to do this? What will be the cost to me if I say yes? Sometimes, friends, family, and co-workers will be disappointed if you decline. But remember, disappointment is not fatal!
Retire from the job of trying to “be all things to all people”. It’s a crummy job. The pay is low and the benefits stink. Let it go.