Oooof who did I trigger? Anyone get a little pang in the chest? Or a little flip of the stomach? Or just feeling a bit annoyed? Sorry, but equally, not sorry at all.
We live in a world which kinda fetishes being an overachiever, let’s be honest.
All praise the people who are the constant do-ers. All praise the people who are consistently outperforming. All praise the people who get the best grades. All praise the people who go out of their way to do everything for everyone. All praise the people who do all the extra-curricula activities. All praise the people who come in earliest and leave latest. All praise the youngest ever MDs. All praise the people who perpetually put their needs last. All praise the people who get their sense of self worth from perpetually achieving. All praise the people who deep down inside think their only value on this planet is to achieve.
Doesn’t sound quite so sexy anymore does it?
My humble opinion on the subject, is that the majority of overachievers (unless they’ve found their life’s work and their passion and all that jazz) are overachieving because they are absolutely terrified that if they didn’t continue to achieve, their life would fall apart.
If they didn’t continue to achieve, who would love them? If they didn’t continue to achieve, who would they be? If they don’t continue to achieve, then why are they here?
Overachievement, for me, started early doors. I’m the youngest of four and was the kid that flung herself into a swimming pool fully clothed at 2 years old when her siblings were having a lesson because she HAD TO KEEP UP WITH THEM. The teenager who worked stupidly hard all the time because she couldn’t possibly get less than an A (surely nobody would love me if I got a B?). The young adult who would work herself into a frenzy before exams telling herself she was about to fail perpetually, before getting a 1st, every. damn. time. Probably the most annoying friend ever.
That said, I remember at a certain point in my life, looking over at the lives of my less overachievement obsessed friends and thinking.. that actually looks pretty nice. Imagine a life where I wasn’t perpetually obsessed with being the best at everything. Imagine a life where I wasn’t constantly trying to be the best possible employee/friend/girlfriend/sister/daughter/londoner/citizen. How freeing it would be to just be able to do ‘enough’. To not have my entire sense of self metaphorically attached by a tiny thread precariously hanging over an abyss, ready to tumble into the darkness at the tiniest hint of ‘under’ achievement.
My view, is that overachievers, for the most part, are deeply, deeply insecure. (sorry). They may be secure in their ability to overachieve, but take that away, and who are they?
Take away the medals, the promotions, the high salary, the prestigious job, the shiny picture perfect life, and what is left? For a lot of us, it’s a ‘wait, but who the hell am I without this’?
This is the problem, right? We can build up all the overachievement in the world, but if it’s foundations are based on a deep sense of basically not being good enough, the overachievement will never quite cut it.
We’ll get the short term highs of the promotion, the pay rise, the marathon time, the new house but then a couple of months later, the sense of inadequacy (sub-consciously) returns and we go searching for more achievement.
I think this is why a lot of people have mini meltdowns when they retire, because suddenly the achievement train stops. Who are you without the perpetual pats on the back from your bosses?
I’m on my own journey with this. The desire to be ‘the best’ is still there at times, less intensely than before but I’d be lying if I said it had completely gone. It’s a journey, but it’s probably the most important journey I’ll ever take, because if you’re committed to being genuinely peaceful in life, genuinely ok with how things are and genuinely happy — without falling into hellish cycle of overachievement, you HAVE to do your inner work. Because deep down, you know the achievement is all kind of empty without stronger foundations, right?
Work on your foundations.
It’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever do. Way more important than getting the pats on the back from your boss, I promise.
Everything felt infused with irritation. I was doing all the things for everyone else that I thought I should be doing. I was doing all the acts of service. I was, technically, loving those people. And yet. It felt like every act I did, rather than being infused with love, was infused with a shards of glass shooting out of every plate I stacked.
It was a Thursday back in February 2018. The rain hadn’t stopped for months and London was right in the depths of what felt like the longest winter we’d ever had. The dark, damp days had started to getting to me so I’d taken refuge in a hot yoga class to warm up. The scent of palo santo blended with the sweat of 50 people pervaded the room. It was bonus day at work. They’d told us it had been a bad year and not to expect much. I peaked into the envelope, hopeful, as soon as they slid it across the table: £130k. But there I lay, in savasana, with hot, salty tears streaming down my face: I’d never felt emptier.
I always thought it was down to my mildly intense anxious attachment stuff playing out... that and just low key hating dating apps. But then as I started to date a little bit more than I usually do... I was faced with some of the real reasons I'd been avoiding it for so long... and here they are..
It’s been 2.5 years since I hop, skipped and jumped out of the trading floor and into self employed life. In all honesty, I never thought I’d have the courage to do it - I used to wake up in the middle of the night at times in a cold sweat, equally panicked about the prospect of leaving as I was about the prospect of never fully claiming my life.