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The Stress of Being an "Overachiever"

Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves, whereas a high performer is more likely to embrace failure as “part of the process,” says John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of “Overachievement.” 

“I’ve learned that you can’t have everything and do everything all at the same time.” ~Oprah Winfrey

Overachievers are more focused on reaching the finish line than they are on the actual end product. Reaching their goal is more likely going to bring them feelings of relief that they didn’t fail, rather than feeling a sense of pride in their well earned accomplishment. For them, achievement is all about reaching an end— the word itself derives from an Old French term meaning 'to bring to a head.' Overachievers are focused on doing just that, no matter what it takes, regardless if they feel joy or pride in the end. 

There are many different sources of motivation that compel us to work toward goals, yet overachievers are often motivated out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of letting other people down, or a fear of looking weak or incompetent. This type of motivation serves as a source of anxiety and often leads to stress, worry, and negative feelings, all of which can have a detrimental impact on self-worth and confidence. Ultimately, overachievers are working hard in order to avoid a negative outcome (failure) rather than achieve a positive outcome (achieving a desired goal). So many people are overachievers, and the fears they face can even stop them from doing what they need to do. They get so stressed out about whether or not they’re going to let someone down, it’s a hard habit to crack, but it’s extremely possible.

Try this:

If you fear failure because you’re worried about letting people down, remember that self-awareness is the best starting point for being all that you can be to yourself and others. Set aside some quiet time to ask yourself these key questions. 

  1. What beliefs do I have about myself that stop me from taking pride in my accomplishments?

  2. What beliefs do I have about myself that make me criticize myself when my goal isn’t achieved? 


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