An overachiever is someone who performs to a higher standard or achieves greater success than is expected of them.
That sounds okay, right?
What’s so bad about being an overachiever?
Isn’t it good to get a lot of things accomplished?
After all, there are so many things that need to get done! Good grades in school mean better opportunities later.
Knocking out that work project after staying up all night means you can put it in front of the boss and maybe get some accolades.
Things need doing, families need to be taken care of, someone has to get all of these things finished and finished now to move on to the other things that need finishing!
Alas, there are downsides to having an overachiever personality. Not least that the high standard you work to and the success you achieve often comes through ‘excess’ effort.
What’s more, many of the signs that indicate you are an overachiever are seen as negative.
So, what are those signs? What traits does an overachiever normally have?
1. You have problems with anxiety.
The need to overachieve is often rooted in anxiety and the need to maintain control over everything within reach.
The more control the overachiever can exert over those things, the less their anxiety troubles them.
2. You have low self-esteem and tie your worth to your achievements.
An overachiever may associate their achievements with their sense of self-worth. They may feel like they aren’t good enough if they aren’t earning whatever they’re receiving, even if it’s not relevant.
That might be working themselves to the bone at work. It might be overcompensating in relationships because they feel they do not deserve the love they are receiving unless they can somehow ‘repay’ their partner.
3. You have a difficult time accepting failure.
Failure is not an option for an overachiever.
Yet, most things don’t work out well on the first try. You may have to fail multiple times before you finally get your process dialed in to achieve the result you want.
That’s a lot harder to do when you feel like failure reflects poorly on your character.
Everyone fails at things sooner or later. It’s what you do with that failure that determines how successful you will be after.
4. You assign value to others based on their successes or failures.
You may not mean to do it, but you may find yourself looking at other people through the lens of their successes and failures.
If they failed, then maybe they didn’t try hard enough, work hard enough, do everything that was within their power to succeed. Maybe they were lazy!
Surely, you could have done a much better job if it had been you doing the work. You may have a hard time accepting that sometimes things just don’t go as planned.
5. You are less focused on success and more focused on avoiding bad outcomes.
Success is exciting. It’s fun, and it feels good. But the overachiever does not necessarily view success as something to celebrate.
Instead, the overachiever is more focused on avoiding bad outcomes from their efforts.
They may look for ways to avoid responsibility for failure, refuse to accept blame for their responsibilities, or have a list of excuses for why they failed.
The overachiever will try to land at neutral if they are at risk of failing.
6. You are a perfectionist.
Perfectionism is often a maladaptive coping skill for low self-worth or anxiety.
The need for perfection in one’s efforts or work offers a convenient escape hatch to accepting responsibility or judgment.
No one can ever tell you your work is bad if you are constantly working on it, so it’s never done. An overachiever may be a perfectionist, endlessly toiling over their work so that it never faces the possibility of criticism or failure. Everything must be perfect, and conditions must be ideal.
7. You generally live in the future.
The overachiever is continuously looking forward to potential problems and projects that are coming their way.
They have a difficult time just being in the present moment and enjoying what they have.
Success doesn’t offer much happiness but instead provides relief that things didn’t go badly. And now, it’s time to start planning for the next project or promotion.
The overachiever is continually looking for opportunities to move forward, even at the cost of other aspects of their life or health.
8. Your actions and choices are based on a fear of being inadequate or not good enough.
Many of your actions and choices regarding accomplishment come from a place of fear.
You may work hard, long hours at work to provide for your children, not because you want them to be happy, but because you are afraid of being a bad parent.
The boss knows they can always call on you to do the unpleasant tasks at work, and you’ll agree because you’re afraid of being a lousy employee.
You often say yes to your friends or have poor emotional boundaries because you don’t want to be a bad friend.
The overachiever may work off the clock or secretly try to do tasks to give the impression that they can handle everything.
9. You may have a hard time being mediocre at anything.
The overachiever feels the need to be judged and ranked. They may not do things for the joy of doing them or if they aren’t good at it.
Overachievers also tend to be attracted to activities that they can be judged on to fulfill that need.
Art is an excellent example. Any artistic pursuit can bring joy, nurture creativity, and leave you with something you created in your own hands.
But the overachiever isn’t interested in those things. They want to create something great. Something that’s better than what other people do. They can’t be average or mediocre at their art. Otherwise, it’s an indictment of their self-worth.
10. You may keep a close eye on who does what in your relationship.
Relationships require work to succeed. That work ranges from emotional management, dealing with the difficulties of life, getting the housework done, and so much more.
The overachiever may find themselves regularly keeping score with their partner about who does what.
They may also feel like they are in direct competition with their partner to ensure they are a “good” partner.
The overachiever may have difficulty sitting still, resting when they’re sick, or letting their partner handle responsibility. They need to keep up, need to achieve, and prove to their partner that they are worth loving by doing things.
How to stop being an overachiever.
The healthy version of being an overachiever is to be a high-performance achiever.
You can be someone that gets things done, a lot of things done, without undermining your relationships or ruining your health.
The key to making the change is to understand why you feel that you need to overachieve in the first place.
That may be tied to something like a previous abusive relationship, an abusive upbringing, or other unresolved issues related to your sense of self-worth and well-being. You may very well need to explore that angle with a certified mental health therapist to better unravel your story.
Professional help aside, here are some tips that can help pull your actions into a healthier place.
1. Learn to say no.
Overachievers often have the problem of saying “yes” to any and all projects that come their way. Their natural inclination is that they totally can and will handle it.
That’s a problem because not all projects are the right fit for you and your life. You only have so many hours in the day, and you don’t want to waste them on doing projects and others’ responsibilities when you don’t have to.
Chances are pretty good that other people have exploited your willingness to say “yes” when they need something done. Don’t be surprised if some people around you have an attitude or get angry when you start saying no.
2. Focus on meaningful work.
An overachiever is looking to assure themselves that they are good or worthy. They do that by accomplishing things.
Sometimes, the overachiever will take on small or meaningless work just to provide that additional boost to themselves. They may look for inconsequential work so they can just get something done and accomplish it, whether it’s their responsibility or not.
Make meaningful choices on what you do and why you do it – question why you are deciding to pick up an additional piece of work.
3. Accept that perfection is a lie.
The need for perfection often comes from dark, painful places. But you’re not perfect. No one is. It’s impossible to be.
You’ll never do all of your work, art, or love perfectly. You’ll never perfectly accomplish everything that you want to accomplish. It’s a lie that keeps you from meaningfully achieving.
And be wary of people who do expect perfection because chances are pretty good they are using it as a means to control, cover up their own problems, or avoid responsibility.
4. Bring yourself to the present.
Take a few minutes here and there to meditate. Try out guided meditations to try to bring your mind more to the present. Take time to enjoy your wins and mourn your losses at the moment. Have some fun when you can and don’t get swept up into the next task or responsibility.
The work will always be there. It’s pretty much eternal. Only you can carve out the time in your busy schedule to rest and find some peace and happiness in the present moment. It’s there waiting for you.
5. Be the authentic you.
The authentic you is not perfect and will not always achieve. The authentic you will get things wrong from time to time and may be a little bit weird.
But by being authentic and honest about your struggles instead of covering them up or avoiding failure, you create a rich opportunity to meaningfully connect with other people.
The relationships that crop up from being honest and authentic will be far deeper and more genuine than the superficial ones you’ve developed out of playing to others’ expectations.
You are good enough, and you are worthy – whether you experience great success or failure.
You may also like:
- Overcoming Perfectionism: 8 Ways To Accept Less Than The Best
- The Real Reason You Have A Fear Of Failure (And What To Do About It)
- 12 Examples Of Approval-Seeking Behavior (+ How To Drop Your Need For Validation)
- To Grow Your Self-Esteem Over Time, Do These 10 Small Things Regularly
- Discover How Your “Self-Concept” Influences Everything You Do