Overachieving is a verb I know really well. To prove my overachieving credibility, I will list off my achievements by the age of 26. Graduated from a top institution with a masters of science in engineering, backpacked through 6 continents, hiked to the top of Africa (Kilimanjaro) and the lower-48 states (Whitney), lost 40 pounds, ran a half marathon, started 2 side businesses. The list goes on and on but these are the big ones. Even after all these achievements, I was still searching for “what’s next?” Where do I go on my next travel adventure, what will my next degree be in, what is my next financial/personal/physical goal? I was insatiable.
The clarity moment came for me after I had ran the San Francisco Women's Half Marathon and my mom, who was waiting for me at the finish line, remarked, “Are you just dragging me along as you cross off your achievements?” I sat with that and realized I had been valuing my own achievements above my relationship with my family. My priorities seemed askew, but I couldn’t stop the cycle of achievement- at the time, I didn’t know how. The pattern of goal quenching become apparent to me around this time and I decided to take a step back from my pursuits. I put that MBA on hold, and I postponed the trip to Antarctica (that 7th continent is still waiting for me...).
I decided I needed to figure out how to live a meaningful life without achieving. I needed to figure out how the people whom I’ve met while traveling, many of whom have less than myself, seemed so much more fulfilled in their lives. By slowing down on my goals, I was able to see I was achieving for all the wrong reasons. I was achieving to feel good about myself. I was achieving to fill holes in my self worth that I hadn’t yet addressed. These holes would temporarily be filled by the next achievement, but soon that would go away, and the holes would remain.
Through this, I learned I needed a more permanent solution to filling the holes. Fleeting goals were like sand and would no longer work anymore, I needed to look inward and heal. By looking inward, I discovered pain and trauma that had been lurking and unconsciously defining me. Trauma that I had tried to ignore for years and convince myself “it was fine” needed to be addressed. I went to therapy and poured my heart and soul into re-telling the story to myself. An experience I used to look back on and feel immense shame transformed into an experience of immense compassion. A story I unconsciously used to tell myself was, “you are not worthy of love and belonging unless you prove it to everyone.” Once I recognized my false story, I was able to transform that story into, “you are worthy of love and belonging no matter what, every human is worthy.”
When we struggle with overachieving, it’s easy to see that as a good thing in American society. We are convinced that the more we achieve, the more we appear to “have it all together.” We wear “busy-ness” as a badge of honor and feel accomplished when our schedules are packed to the brim with activities. This narrative is false. This story is why we as Americans struggle to find meaning in our lives. It is only when we slow down and look inward, that we are able to revisit the truth in the story. Why am I pursuing this? Am I actually enjoying what I’m pursuing or am I just doing this because it feels like the “next step”?
When we slow down and visit our intentions, we can see with clarity the difference between a positive goal and an achievement only to fill a hole in our self-worth. Next time we feel the unquenchable desire to achieve, let’s probe a little bit deeper and ask ourselves the hard questions. Filling holes in our self worth with sand only lasts so long.
If you’re interested in exploring your overachieving tendencies with me a little bit more, I am currently offering a free 90 minute transformational call where we can dive deep and explore the root cause of your tendencies. Click here to get on my schedule.