Do you outperform everyone? Do you hold yourself to the highest standards? Then you just might be an overachiever. Overachievement can often be mentally and emotionally damaging.
Why overachievement is a problem
A person who is an overachiever will often work way too hard than they should in order to succeed. Not only do they have a highly developed work ethic, but they also tend to be perfectionists, have poor work-life balance, and have a low sense of self-worth.
“Overachievers are people who do great things but still need to accomplish more. Even though they attain more success than the vast majority of people, they are never satisfied and always strive to accomplish more,” explains author and educational consultant Kendra Cherry, MS.
Although this tendency can result in impressive academic and professional success, overachievement can lead to feelings of emptiness and imbalance in your life. You may ignore your family, friends, and yourself in order to succeed in your career and life. Kendra adds “The problem with overachievement is that it involves reaching these goals at costs that outweigh the rewards. People often sacrifice their own health, happiness, and relationships in order to chase a target that is always moving beyond them.”
Overachievers and anxiety
When you judge your own worth solely based on how much you have achieved in life, then it is a good indicator that you are an overachiever. Overachievement is not necessarily a negative thing. If your friends and family think that you are an overachiever then it means they think you are hard-working, dedicated and successful.
However, if you are mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by anxiety and fear about uncertainty, failure, and the future, then you need to take a deeper look at yourself. Overachievement is often a result of desperately trying to avoid negative judgment, believes Robert Arkin, Ph.D., professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.
Just because you are successful, doesn’t mean you cannot struggle with anxiety and depression. Most overachievers often secretly struggle with mental health issues. But “just because someone seems like they’re striving, doesn’t mean they’re not struggling – and no matter what you’re perceived as, you deserve help and support,” explains The Mighty.
Signs you are an overachiever
Do you believe that you are an overachiever? Then here are a few signs of overachievement that you need to look out for:
1. You care only about the outcome
For overachievers, reaching the outcome is more important than anything else. You believe that others judge you based on your achievements, so hold yourself up to this standard. Dr. Arkin explains that overachievers “believe that people around them, and they themselves, judge their worthiness based upon how well they do.”
The tendency to overachieve makes us believe that failure is a personal reflection, says John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance and author of Overachievement. Kendra Cherry adds “Failure is not just part of the process for an overachiever – it is how they measure their worthiness. Poor outcomes can be devastating, so an overachiever will go to any ends to avoid such failings.”
2. You only feel relief, not happiness
Overcoming an obstacle or accomplishing a goal makes you feel relieved. As your focus is particularly on avoiding failure, then enjoying your work or improving your performance, you are able to feel only relief and not happiness or satisfaction. This is the basic difference between a high performer and an overachiever.
Dr. Arkin says “When you avoid a bad outcome, your emotional life is experienced more as a relief than it is experienced as joy, and that’s just not as rewarding.” When you constantly feel anxious and afraid of failure, you are not really living up to your fullest potential. Your effort to avoid failure is preventing you from experiencing life. “They’re thinking about the past and the future, mostly, instead of living in the moment and enjoying its pleasures,” adds Arkin.
Kendra explains “Rather than feeling pride or joy in their accomplishment, they are simply relieved that they have not failed.”
3. You are a perfectionist
Overachievement leads to a false and damaging sense of perfectionism. This perfectionist attitude can not only be witnessed at the workplace, but also at home as well. Overachievers strive to become perfect husbands and parents or to build the perfect home, says author John Eliot, Ph.D.
They believe that the inability to be perfect is a warning sign of failure. So they often resort to extreme measures to hold their perfect reputation. Educational consultant Kendra Cherry writes that being a perfectionist “often means that you value good work and are committed to doing your best. It is when this perfectionism becomes a source of stress and anxiety that it can start to take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.”
In fact, a 2015 study by John D. Kelly, IV, MD revealed that perfectionism was directly linked with anxiety. The research found that “perfectionism derives from anxiety or self-esteem issues, which themselves have been linked to less personal satisfaction and an increased risk of suicide. Indeed, perfectionists have a higher risk of eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression.”
4. You believe you are not worth it
All overachievers secretly have this inner belief that they are not good enough which is why they always strive their hardest to prove that they have what it takes, mostly to themselves. Self-doubt and self-criticism about your own abilities is a sign of overachievement. You believe your self-esteem and identity are built on your success. And when you feel inadequate, you may even resort to self-sabotage strategies.
Kendra adds that overachievers “have a tendency to berate themselves for failing to live up to their own excessively high expectations.” She explains “Being an overachiever may mean that you are more likely to suffer from self-doubt and anxiety. The stress of constantly striving to reach an almost impossible goal coupled with the ever-present fear of failure can be a major source of stress.”
5. You are motivated by fear
The primary cause of overachievement is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of letting yourself and others down. Fear of being criticized. Fear of other people seeing you the way you see yourself. This fear can motivate any overachiever to give everything they have to accomplish their goals. As they are afraid of appearing incompetent and weak before others, they start experiencing anxiety, stress, and depression.
“This type of motivation serves as a source of anxiety,” explains Kendra. She adds “Ultimately, you are working hard in order to avoid a negative outcome (failure) rather than achieve a positive outcome (achieving the desired goal).” This is a form of avoidance-based behavior that can result in worry, anxiety, distress, and other negative emotions which can severely impact your sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
How to tell if you’re an overachiever
Here are some other signs of overachievement that you need to consider to find out if you are an overachiever:
i. You tend to ignore your personal needs to focus more on your work. And this directly affects your physical, mental and emotional health.
ii. You suffer from anxiety as you constantly worry about failure and the future. Always thinking about what you can achieve next is a shortcut to stress.
iii. You are only focused on the future and you are too busy worrying about the things to come. Hence, you are unable to enjoy the beauty of the present moment.
iv. You are unable to relax as you are always working. You never take any days off or a vacation or take small breaks during the day.
v. The need to avoid failure at all costs can often compel you to take unnecessary and dangerous risks which can be detrimental to your well-being and reputation. This often leads to setting unrealistic goals and unethical behavior.
vi. You tend to become easily frustrated and tend to lose your temper. As you are under constant stress to avoid failure, you are highly prone to emotional outbursts when things don’t go your way.
vii. You are unable to accept criticism as it denotes that you have failed at something. Even the slightest constructive criticism can make you feel anxious and afraid.
viii. You are unable to enjoy your success. Even after accomplishing an important goal, you immediately run after the next.
ix. You don’t enjoy doing things that are not good at as it means there’s a chance you may fail at getting those things done. So you choose to stick to things you know well and are already good at.
x. Overachievement affects your relationships with your partner, family and friends. As you are always busy with your work, you can never manage to spend quality time with your loved ones.
xi. You often work long hours and are often the first one to reach your workplace and the last one to leave.
xii. You are always running against time. You find yourself running constantly from one task to the other and hence you are unable to find any work-life balance.
How to deal with overachievement
If you can identify with most of the signs of an overachiever mentioned above, then there are certain things you can do to deal with it.
Here are a few steps that will help you to succeed and accomplish goals without affecting your mental and physical health, well-being, relationships, and life.
1. Step back and question yourself
Goals are important. But it is also important to know why they are important. As you become driven by your fear of failure, ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen if you can’t accomplish this goal. Do you really care that much about it? Is this a realistic goal?
“While it may not change your mind about pursuing your objective, it may help you gain a bit of perspective about why you are chasing this goal,” writes Kendra Cherry, MS.
2. Learn to accept failure
Failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be an excellent learning experience that can take you another step closer to success. Failure can teach you things success never can. Once you learn to accept the bitterness of failure and the joy of overcoming it, you will be more likely to navigate through different obstacles in life. Having the ability to get back up after getting knocked down will make you more resilient and more likely to succeed.
3. Focus on the process, not the outcome
If you want to overcome your tendency for overachievement, then you need to carefully understand the difference between overachievement and high performance. Unlike overachievers, high performers focus more on their performances and achieving their goals as opposed to avoiding failure.
For overachievers, it’s product over process. However, for high performers, it’s process over product. So if you wish to cope with your habit to overachieve, then you need to shift your mindset and focus on the process instead of the product.
Kendra Cherry writes “Success does not just mean finishing on time or ticking certain tasks off a list. Instead, it is all about the journey itself, how well the project turns out, and how much they learn along the way.”
4. Do what makes you happy
Instead of running after your next promotion or giving up everything to be more successful, focus on what actually matters to you. Instead of trying to impress and please others do what enriches your soul and makes you happy. “Check in with what really makes you happy,” explains Amanda Smear Baudier, Yoga instructor and founder of The Social Sutras.
5. Build your relationships
The habit of overachievement can take a heavy toll on your relationships. But now you need to stop letting your relationships suffer due to your goals. Connect with your loved ones as healthy social relationships can motivate and support you to accomplish long-term goals.
Kendra adds “Reach out to others, devote time to the ones you love, and be willing to let other people support you along the way.” Moreover, the support of your loved ones will also help to manage your anxiety and improve your mental health.
6. Look after yourself
Just because you love your work and enjoy being successful, doesn’t mean you will ignore your own needs. Success without happiness is meaningless. And happiness starts with self-love and self-care. Make sure to take care of yourself even when you are busy pursuing your goals and dreams.
Kendra suggests “Do not overlook your well-being, both physical and mental, just so you can keep your nose to that grindstone. Give yourself breaks, reward your efforts, and do something each day that will benefit your health and wellness.”
Let go of your need to achieve more
Overachievement is a disorder and it’s contagious. Amanda Smear Baudier explains “Our parents and teachers gave it to us, and we proudly pass it onto our peers.” But the good news is that we can choose to stop. We can stop being afraid of failure. We can stop running from one accomplishment to the other. We can stop comparing ourselves with others. We can stop forcing ourselves to compete. We can stop judging, self-sabotaging, and self-criticizing. We can break the cycle.
You can be happy just by being yourself. By doing what you love, even if you don’t succeed at times. And that’s okay. “We all have a unique purpose to unfold in this lifetime and the sooner we stop trying to one up one another, the sooner we’ll find the path to that which will truly bring us joy,” adds Amanda.
Author Kendra Cherry, MS concludes that overachievement “can be unhealthy and contribute to stress, poor relationships, and fear. Fortunately, taking a step back and focusing more on the quality of your success rather than the quantity can help you gain a better perspective on personal achievement.”