Hi, I’m Alex and I’m a former over-achiever. And I’m going to be honest here, there were many years when I really wore that title with pride. I had no idea about high achiever vs overachiever. For me, being an overachiever gave me this inner sense that I was just a bit more capable than other people. Able to go further, demonstrate more ability and determination; just sort of accidentally a cut above. Pure fragile ego propped up by self-doubt and self-dislike. It is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves – on a personal and also a societal level – that our value is defined by achievement. And this lie can be particularly painful if you’re already moving through the world with a sense that you somehow don’t have the same inherent value as other people. That’s where the road to being an overachiever can start to become pretty shadowy.
Filling the emotional potholes with achievement
If you’re on the wrong side of high achiever vs overachiever, the reality is often a constant sense of inadequacy. Trying to fill in the potholes of self-worth with empty achievements, like Rod Stewart trying to pave the way for his Ferrari. Far from viewing myself as a high flyer who was head and shoulders above the rest, deep down I spent many years feeling like I somehow just never quite got there. And the truth is that I didn’t – get there. Because one of the hallmarks of an overachiever is setting impossible and unrealistic goals. No one could get there. This kind of perfectionist behaviour can really only lead to one outcome: dissatisfaction and negative self-image.
High achiever vs overachiever: Step 1, ditch the self-sabotage
There are so many narratives around overachievement and perfectionism that paint these as positive that sometimes it’s hard to get away from the idea that you need to stop operating in this way. I can feel my own resistance rising up – still – when I start talking about the idea that it’s ok to be “enough” rather than “better than” or “excellent.” But the truth is that unrealistic goals that bear little relation to your skills, abilities and resources won’t generate progress. You can still think big and be a high flyer. All that you need to leave behind is the self-sabotage element that defines overachievement.
Overachiever vs average?
I often come across clients who tell me that they think the alternative to being an overachiever is being average. This is a narrative that I recognise in myself too. But it’s just not true. It’s good to be ambitious, driven, motivated, inspired etc. However, you need a framework to get there that will actually work. That’s why I think the comparison here isn’t between perfectionism/over achiever and just being enough. I actually think it’s more valuable to look at the difference between being a high achiever and an overachiever. So, let’s do that.
High achiever vs overachiever
Defining over achievement: Over achievers set unrealistic expectations for themselves. This leads to imposter syndrome, burnout etc.
Defining high achievement: High achievers go the extra mile. But expectations are realistic and not meeting them doesn’t mean you’re not good enough
I’m well aware that there are people out there that will tell you that if you leave any room for failure within your goals then you will fail. That it’s demotivating to tell yourself it’s ok not to reach your goals. I probably was one of those people at one point. Look closely at those people. Notice their achievements – probably many – and then notice how much they appreciate them, and their own efforts – probably not much. Who would that person be without their achievements? Is achievement what defines them?
Overachievement is often a sign of suffering
Although we often equate an excess of achievement with success, it’s actually not a healthy and happy way to live. Instead, it’s frequently a sign of suffering. It can indicate someone who learned that achievement is the only way to get the attention of a caregiver who was otherwise uninterested. Or who feels how wonderfully numbing it can be to just achieve and achieve and achieve without ever having to stop and deal with hard feelings. Or just love yourself exactly as you are without a big salary, a perfect family, a model body or lots of letters after your name. The biggest issue, of course, is when the achievement stops. Because it always will at some point. And when the hard stuff hits – failure, rejection, wondering who you are and why you’re here. At that point a list of past achievements is an inadequate comfort. You can trust me on that.
Focus on who you are, not what you do
One of the fastest ways to break the grip of perfectionism and overachievement is to separate out who you are from what you do. You are not what you do. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of defining your identity in this way. Maybe you don’t really much like who you are without all the bells and whistles of achievement. Or perhaps it’s just become a habit that someone else taught you. If you’re reading this blog with a slightly uncomfortable sense of recognition, fret not. There are some tips you can use to start redefining your perspective on what makes you a valuable human being:
- Think about the things you love doing when no one is watching.
- What made your heart sing when you were a kid?
- Are you clear on your values?
- What qualities do you most love about yourself?
Focusing on these, instead of what you do for work or how much you earn or own, will help you find different ways to value yourself.
Become a high achiever and let yourself thrive
There is nothing wrong with achievement, progress or success. What can become damaging is when how much we achieve is the primary the yardstick we use to determine our view of who we are. Or how we measure our own happiness. Or the way we judge others. It’s a scale against which no one ever really wins.
Being more resilient gives you the fuel to move past the trap of perfectionism and overachieving and into a much more liberated, satisfying and empowered life. If you’d like to find out more book an intro call and let’s chat about your challenges.