Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of articles about how to become an overachiever. I find this trend baffling. As a recovering overachiever, I don’t recommend becoming one. In addition to being a constant source of annoyance to others, overachievers are notorious control freaks, stress-mongers, and secret procrastinators. Don't believe me? Ask any overachiever about their life goals. The list will be long and lofty. Meanwhile, their achievements remain on the 'someday' list. Instead, they post pictures of their Elf on the Shelf making snow angels in flour, and other Pinterest- worthy diversions.
If you already suffer from overachieveritis, here are some tips to help you knock it off already so you can achieve your real goals:
Perfectionism is often a cover up for deep pain. In eigth grade, Kay Richards punched me in the head on the way to science class shouting, “TAKE THAT, LITTLE MISS PERFECT!" She didn’t know that my carefully styled outfits and teachers-pet antics were a cover up. My home life was chaotic, dysfunctional, and sometimes violent. Behind my perfect Farah Fawcett curls, I was suffering. If you’re a perfectionist, there’s a reason. The need for that level of control comes from a deep, dark place. Dig in there and find it. Accept and forgive, then let it go. It will be the biggest step you ever take towards living a rich and authentic life. As writer, Ann Lamott wrote, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor… It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” In truth, there is no perfect. Free yourself.
There’s no time like the present. Literally. Overachievers are smart people with lots of great ideas. Unfortunately, they have become victims of their own brilliance, tortured by all the things they ‘could’ do, or ‘should’ do. Someday. Here’s the trick: When you decide to achieve a goal, take action right away. Don’t wait until Monday, or after the holidays, or when you get past the current crisis. If you’re waiting until you have the time – NEWSFLASH! - you will never have more time than you do now. In fact, now is the only time you are guaranteed. If you’re stuck at which idea or goal to work towards, pick something. Go. It’s not a tattoo.
Do real work. (No squirrels!) Once you get going, don’t stop, even when you're uncomfortable and/or are tempted by distraction. Beware all the little things that can pull you off the path just when you’re gaining momentum. The fear of failure that plagues overachievers can manifest itself as lack of focus. Overachievers often get wrapped up in extensive organization or preparation. It looks like focus, but it's not. It's “fake work" instead of "real work". They may also avoid completing tasks (which would then be criticized) by doing non-work such as checking Facebook, playing Candy Crush, or even taking a nap. Be honest with yourself about your true level of productivity. Have confidence in your ability to figure things out, survive any outcome, and get stronger in the process. Focus and push.
You may need to get your ‘no’ fixed. As someone with a lifelong mission to help other people, I once had a horrible habit of volunteering for everything and taking on poorly matched projects (and people) with eventual regrets. In something akin to an overachiever intervention, a family member suggested, “I think your ‘no’ may be broken.” If you consistently take on more than you can handle, the first step is to clearly define your core values, needs, and goals. Only say “yes” to people and things that are aligned with those things. Listen to your inner voice when it says, “This doesn’t feel right,” and politely decline. It’s okay to do less.
If you want to go far, go in a group. Despite superficial popularity, overachievers often feel isolated. A great reward of sharing my personal and professional challenges has been the choir of people who have said, “Me too!” and/or “Let me help!” Sure, I’ve met a few who were a little snarky or thought I was weird. Clearly, they aren’t my people. I’ve learned not to take it personally. (Weirdos unite!) Find your people. Surround yourself with those who accept you as you are, and offer genuine support. Whether it’s a professional peer group, a great coach, or more careful friend selection, make positive connections a conscious directive.