The curse of the overachiever

By 27th October 2017Breaking the mould
Book showing title progress not perfection next to apple

Often overachievers are unconsciously seeking perfection.

This is the first post in a three-part series by writer and mental health advocate Louise Jones. For Rose & Butterfly, this is an experiment in writing about personal development while being coached. In this first installment Louise explores the downside to living life defined by your achievements. 

I flourished as a kid. From birth to 18 I was a dream child for my parents. I slept through the night as a baby, happily sat playing in the same spot in the living room as a toddler while my mum had time to herself, made heaps of friends in school, behaved myself, and consistently aced my studies. My parents had it good.

I was used to being praised, and I knew what would get me that praise. I was competitive and loved the attention. I was bold and opinionated, especially as I flew through my teenage years with disgusting ease, and that attitude and personality lent itself perfectly to having a blog. Back in 2009, blogs weren’t the social influencing and marketing platforms they are now. Nonetheless, I made a name for mine and it won a national competition when I was 17. I’d peaked. This was the epitome of the competition and attention I consistently craved, and I had most definitely cemented myself as an overachiever.

Everything was now set. I would have my own columns, I’d write books, I’d have television appearances, and I’d gain thousands of followers a day. I’d have famous friends and have my own house by 25. It didn’t matter how I did at university. I’d already made it. Right?

As I look back on those impressive years, where I was full of unapologetic ego and hope, I quite ridiculously resent the person I’ve become. At 24, I don’t have my own columns, I haven’t published books, and I’ve only managed to cling on to a handful of friends, let alone thousands of followers.

Have I failed?

When I first started talking to Helen at Rose & Butterfly about my own struggles with knowing my purpose, passions, and life paths, I spoke about those overachieving years. I spoke about them with that tone of resentment. I haven’t achieved everything I wanted. I’ve let everyone down. I haven’t tried hard enough, I was a fraud all along.

Helen stopped and questioned my thinking. Why are these my thoughts? It seems what I’m most bothered by is how others are perceiving me, and how I’m ‘performing’. It begged the question: is my overachieving streak embedded, or does it derive from the way I’ve responded to perceived expectations and projections from others? I may have been a comparatively ‘easy’ child to raise, but have I then always chased that praise, and has that now manifested into a sense of dysphoria about who I am and how I define my success and validity in the world?

I see myself as a performing monkey. The curse of the overachiever is basing your worth on your last success, your last win, your last performance. It’s never feeling settled and always wanting more – sometimes too much. It’s looking back and looking forward and never feeling present.

We are always affected by others’ words and feelings. That’s being human. But, despite all these expectations and projections from others, you still have the authority and autonomy to decide if these expectations align with your own, are reasonable, and true. It’s not a fact that you will be a consistent overachiever because you once were, or if others think so. And that’s ok. You have a choice. You have many choices, isn’t that wonderful?

At 24, I have not failed. I’m only 24! I will have many more successes, and just as many failures that I’ll learn from. I need to stop looking back on my younger self with hatred and apologies. Helen’s coaching has taught me to ‘build constructive history’ when reflecting, so I treat myself with compassion and recognition. Overachieving is not a personality trait. For me, it’s a product of the pressuring, intense, and overwhelming world we live in. I have nothing to prove… until I fall into the Quarter-Life Crisis, but that’s for another time…

Tips from Rose & Butterfly

 Helen says: “If you’ve branded yourself an ‘overachiever’, first consider the possibility that this isn’t an everlasting truth about who you are, but a label you’ve created to define yourself. Next, consider the possibility that beyond your current achievements, the next most interesting question you could ask yourself isn’t necessarily, ‘What am I going to achieve next?’ but could be: ‘What interests or opportunities am I going to explore next?’

It can feel surprisingly liberating when we stop asking, ‘What am I going to achieve next?’ and instead ask, “What am I going to see new in myself next?”

When you start to see yourself from a position of new possibility, the choices may feel somewhat overwhelming.  So, how do you decide your next step? You may find the following suggestions useful:

You can find Louise on Twitter at @louisejonesetc and on her blog, Biscuits & Blisters

Want to read the rest of the series? 

Part Two: Facing quarter life crisis

Part Three: Post quarter life crisis: discovering new priorities

Helen Williams

Author Helen Williams

More posts by Helen Williams

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