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How Overachieving Can Become A Problem
We grow up in a world that praises achievement but when does achieving turn into overachieving and can that become a problem?
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We live in a world that puts achievement and success high on a pedestal. Within schools, we praise those who are top of the class and that is only emphasised as we also reward those with the most extracurricular activities. We are told when applying to university, it isn’t just good enough to get good grades, you need to have other things to prove whether it’s Grade 8 in Piano, winning a tennis tournament, excelling in your school debate competition or holding a leadership position like prefect or Head Girl. But you know what’s better than any of those things? All of those things. And we wonder where we learned that we aren’t good enough without qualifications, badges and trophies.
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The root cause of overachieving can stem from many things. For example, if you grew up in a household where you only got attention when you were achieving, that becomes positive reinforcement to keep doing it. You need not have been deprived of attention though for this to be the case. It could be observing how your siblings are praised more highly and you noticing that it is a way to become superior to your siblings or in more extreme cases, you could be neglected or berated for underperforming. It is intrinsic to a child to want a parent’s approval and many learn that through achievement within the school system. And if it’s not your parent’s approval that you are seeking, it could be your teachers.
When someone lacks self-esteem, overachieving can also be a defence mechanism because the belief is if they do more, then they will be worth more. If you are not taught how to form self-esteem internally, you tend to fill the gap of where self-esteem should be with achievements. We need to be taught in childhood that we are good enough as we are, because of who we are not because of what we can do. Sometimes, if this is not enforced consciously enough, we reach for good grades or later in life, job performance to reinforce our worries that in order to be good enough, we need to be productive and high performing.
As we leave school and childhood behind, if this is not addressed, what tends to happen is the behaviour worsens because anytime you repeat a behaviour over time, it will get more extreme. If you are unable to achieve the parental approval you were seeking in childhood, often this perseveres into adulthood, especially if they grew up in a household where the message was that whatever they did, it was not good enough. When you carry this belief into adulthood, you will often perpetuate it yourself, ignoring your own accomplishments and depriving yourself of the praise you deserve. If you always brush off compliments or diminish them when they are given, this could be a tell-tale sign!
The problem is with such an emphasis on achievements, your life will tend to have a heavy focus on your career (or your education when younger!) and as a result, you will miss out on other elements of life that create balance like a social life or a love life. It is normal to have periods of your life where your priorities will be heavily focused in one area, even your career but long term, especially when it comes to your work life this can lead to burnout as that constant striving, with no satisfaction in sight, means that you will rarely give yourself time to rest.
Does all of this sound familiar? Does it sound like you? If so, what can you do about it?
You need to recognise that overachieving is actually not about work, your career or that specific project you are worrying about. This is an overarching problem that is a result of your self-esteem and therefore being hard on yourself or mean to yourself is only going to worsen the source of the problem to begin with.
Start acknowledging the work you are doing and the wins you are getting along the way. Accept compliments even if you don’t believe them. Trust that the person is telling the truth even if you can’t see it yourself. People don’t tend to go out of their way to compliment others for the sake of it.
Then, start having proper off time. When you clock off, make sure you are actually putting your work away. Turn off notifications on emails after a certain time and when you are Out Of Office, actually stop replying to people.
Another pivotal mindset shift is recognising there is a long gap between being the best and the worst. The problem with the overachieving mentality is it forces this idea that unless you are the very best, you shouldn't bother. Recognising that doing something well, even if you are not the best, is still good enough and also that your time doesn't always need to be productive. You can do something simply because you enjoy it and that time is still valuable, whether you are good at it or not!
Do you believe you are an overachiever? How did you learn to prevent this behaviour? Let me know in the comments!
Lots of love,