How to Overcome Being an Overachiever

Raise your hand if you’re an overachiever. If you are, then chances are your hand just shot up in the air. You probably got a flashback to the good old days in the classroom, where you always used to sit in the front and you were teacher’s pet — ready to answer any question about the homework with the correct response.

I was that kid who sat in the front with all the reading done in addition to the extra-credit reading. I was that kid who was in every club and campus organization you could imagine: horseback riding on Mondays, tennis on Tuesdays, French on Wednesdays, piano on Thursdays and choir practice on Fridays. I was that kid who cried over getting B’s.

And while I used to think being the overachieving “A-student” was the only way to do anything worthwhile in this world, I’ve sadly come to the realization that being an overachiever can actually be counter-productive.

In fact, especially in the workforce, there are many surprising downsides of being an overachiever. While occasionally giving your work that extra something can be the right thing to do, making a habit of it turns your overachievement into your new work baseline. This can lead to serious problems, like causing more stress and even burnout. In fact, overachieving can even cause you to hate what you do and who you work with. Lastly, it can actually keep you from achieving things because of a paralyzing fear of failure.

You may be wondering, what’s wrong with trying to do everything as perfectly as possible?  According to psychologist Adrian Furnham, perfectionism is actually considered a handicap in the psychiatry field because perfectionism can lead to massive procrastination and misguided prioritization.

“Overachievers can have a hard time prioritizing because everything is equally important,” Furnham said. “Choosing one project to focus on at the expense of another can cause tremendous turmoil, because there’s no excuse for being lax about any task, even if it’s low priority. This dilemma frequently causes overachievers to get stuck; it can be just too difficult to make those painful choices about what not to do perfectly.”

While it doesn’t hurt to push yourself once in a while, there are clearly a lot of downsides to being a chronic overachiever where perfection is always the goal. So what can you do to overcome? These tips can help:

  1. Accept failure as a learning experience. Failure is an especially tough pill to swallow for overachievers. But moving past your failures becomes more than a learning experience. It becomes the painful acceptance you aren’t as capable as you thought, which is OK. Doing things harder, faster and in abundance doesn’t always lead to success. But being able to get back up and try again is more certain to do so.
  2. Strive for productivity instead. Rather than trying to be the best or smartest in the room, think about being more efficient. That means sometimes you aren’t always the best person for the job. Learn how to delegate by identifying the strengths of others in your work environment. True leadership is often reflected in your ability to pick people who are smarter and better than you and giving them tasks in which to excel. Not only will this lead to more productivity and efficiency, but you’ll also be able to focus on the things you are really good at too.
  3. Unplug. Overachievers suffer from comparing themselves to others way too much. If the first thing you do every morning and the last thing you do at night is look at your phone, it’s time to unplug. Comparing yourself to others with their “perfect lives” through social media or checking your email after hours will not help you to accomplish. Instead, taking time to unplug and chill out by setting aside your phone can actually make you more productive when it is time to work.
  4. Question your motives. Before you take on that new project, or promise yourself you’re going to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to exercise, ask yourself, “why?” If it feels like you’re taking on more simply because that’s what everyone else is doing or because achieving is the only way you feel validated, you’re setting yourself up for emotional disappointment and frustration. Instead, do something because you enjoy it or because you know it’s in the best interests of your organization.
  5. Become a high-performer. High performers are strategists. They know when to wait, when to attack, how to sacrifice and when to change direction. They are able to move in non-linear paths whereas overachievers have one mission: getting from point A to point B as fast as possible with the rules provided. Be more of a strategist and stop trying to tackle everything all at once.

So to my fellow overachievers out there: let’s challenge ourselves to let go of the need for perfection. Let’s let go of having to know all the answers. Let’s let go of having to do it all. And let’s be a little kinder to ourselves.


This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.


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