“For the sake of overdelivering-” my boss started.
“Okay, I’m going to have to stop you right there,” I interrupted her while shaking my head emphatically. “I’m allergic to overdelivering.”
My name is Renata Leo and I am a reformed overachiever.
In my young life, I was constantly overachieving. I couldn’t settle for B’s. If I didn’t think I could win something, I didn’t play. If I didn’t give 110%, I might as well have not done it at all. I have a valedictorian speech and anxiety to show for it.
In college, after working myself way too hard and forcing myself to be the president of a club solely for my resume, I realized that it simply wasn’t worth it to live life as an overachiever. I wanted to learn how to work a reasonable amount without pushing myself. Unfortunately, after a lifetime of overachieving, this wasn’t easy.
While I typically have a penchant for over correcting, I couldn’t quite overcorrect here, considering the fact that the exact opposite of overachieving was doing nothing and I couldn’t simply stop all work and still pass college. I had to find a way to not overachieve without completely dropping all obligations. How very un-Renata-like.
Luckily, since then, I’ve learned how to manage my overachieving tendencies a bit better. I realized that I had to set boundaries with myself and others so that I didn’t give any of us false expectations. This doesn’t come without its fair share of guilt, mind you. But like with anything else, practice makes perfect (something that I didn’t learn until recently, because, you know, I didn’t do anything I couldn’t do perfectly right off the bat)!
What’s my problem with overachieving, you may ask? Get ready for a rant, people!
You have less time to do everything
Guess what? Overachieving takes time. Being the best and giving 110% to everything takes time. If you’re trying to be the best at several things at once, there’s no chance that you will have the time to do them all well. What if you’re missing out on other things that you wanted to do because you’re spending all of your time trying to be the best at everything? My generalist mind and FOMO cannot accept not being able to do all the things!
Never stopping to take stock
Beyond not having time to do everything, you don’t even have time to stop and think. If you’re keeping your head down and grinding until you’re the best, you’re not being self-aware and actually considering whether or not you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Without actually thinking about whether or not you’re enjoying yourself, you might be getting deeper into an activity you don’t even like! Overachieving forces you to work with so much concentration and blind perseverance that self-awareness goes out the window, and that’s never a good thing.
You’re giving others unrealistic expectations
No one can overachieve in perpetuity. If you insist on overachieving from the start, you’re setting up unrealistic expectations. Suddenly, everyone expects something of you that you can’t deliver on regularly. This is why I explained to my boss in the conversation at the beginning of this post that I don’t overdeliver on the first project. I don’t want to set the expectations that I’ll overdeliver on them all.
Take it from someone who felt the need to get A’s constantly because everyone expected me to be valedictorian. Once you start overachieving and setting those expectations, you can’t stop. That is, until…
Overachieving leads to unnecessary burnout
If you’re trying to be the best at anything (or even the best at one very difficult thing!), there’s always a risk of burnout. And the unfortunate thing about burnout is that you can’t overachieve, or even normal achieve, anymore in a state of burnout. If your brain and body are trying to catch up, you can’t even function at your normal capacity. Then, you need to take a complete break and step away, getting even less done. Then, sometimes, once you come back to the thing that caused the burnout in the first place, you become retriggered into a burnout state. Overachieving simply isn’t time-effective when it’s causing burnout that forces you to stop entirely.
Hobbies are no longer just hobbies!
One of the problems with chronic overachieving is that it makes me want to monetize and be the best at every hobby I have. Am I really a writer if I’m not being validated by a company that wants to pay me for my writing!? Any hobbies I have I feel the need to be the best at or else I can’t do them. Now, ever since I started axe league, I feel like I’ve broken that spell, even just a bit. Week after week, I’ve gone back to axe league because I enjoyed it, even though I was terrible at it. I’ve gotten better in the many seasons I’ve played, but I’m just happy I went back to something I enjoyed. It wasn’t about being first, it was about having fun. That didn’t stop me from posting on LinkedIn for the brief time I was first in the league, but still.
You can be an overachiever
All this to say, I won’t tell you how to live your life. While the overachiever life wasn’t worth it for me with all of the panic attacks, stress diarrhea, and sleepless nights, maybe it’s worth it for you! You’re allowed to shoot for the stars and go for that overachiever status, but do it because you want to, not because you feel like you have to. Live your overachiever dreams…while I have actual dreams from sleeping, something only allowed after deciding to accept mediocrity.
Our society pushes hustle culture and blindly striving to be the best. Do you really want to be the best? It’s important to consider that before giving into the pressure of overachieving. While there’s nothing wrong with being an overachiever, I’m happy to just be an achiever. So you go enjoy your rat race…I’ll be over here eating cookies on the sidelines…or I guess I’d be eating the rat’s cheese? I don’t know, I’m not going to be an overachiever and work too hard on this metaphor.
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich