Overachieving—And Me? Or Maybe It’s About Other People

When I started this blog over two and a half years ago, I set a personal goal of posting every weekday. So far I’ve stuck to that and have enjoyed it immensely—not that it hasn’t also felt at times a bit stressful and a tad overachieving.

As I’m heading into one as I write this, I’m particularly thinking about all my vacations—before which I’ve prepared, in addition to my usual daily posts, enough extra posts so to advance-schedule them.

That indeed might be an example of overachieving. Or is it? Isn’t the concept confusing? Is it supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing? I generally associate it with being kind of a bad thing, as in doing more than is warranted or necessary and to the possible detriment of the doer.

John Eliot‘s 2004 book Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More offers the view that overachievement is a positive thing—exceptional performance. But also that the dynamics are kind of the opposite of what you’d expect. The following, for example, are some of his points about overachievers, taken from a list posted by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today:

  • Hard work is overrated. Overachievers know when to stop working at their job and start playing at it.
  • Setting goals is for couch potatoes. The longstanding practice of goal-setting is actually a major obstacle to sustained, vigorous motivation—and being great.
  • Using your head is stupid. In high-stakes performance, the real genius is someone like Yogi Berra. On his way to 10 World Series rings and a place in the Hall of Fame, Yogi was thinking about… nothing.
  • High achievers dwell on what they do well—and spend very little time evaluating themselves and their performances.
  • The best need stress. Classic breathing and relaxation tend to undermine most performances, eliminating the possibility of setting records. Stress is the high-level performer’s Power Bar.
  • Do put all your eggs in one basket. Unlikely accomplishments are born out of single-minded purposefulness.
  • Put the “I” in “team.” By definition, striving to be exceptional puts you outside the team.

Penelope Trunk, entrepreneur and blogger, posted her own “things overachievers do” list in 2012. Here are just a few. Click on the link for more or for details.

  • They use lists.
  • They let doors shut all the time.
  • They talk about their weaknesses.
  • They work for free…(Y)ou just need to know when it’s okay to work for free.
  • They get tons of coaching.
  • They come out of the closet. If they’re gay. People who are openly gay at work do better than people who hide it.
  • They steal stuff. Overachievers know they have tons of ideas so they don’t care if people steal some of theirs. Overachievers are more likely to bend the rules to make life easier for themselves. That’s why I stole the idea for this post from Thought Catalogue.

TJ McCueForbes, another proud stealer, admits he took ideas from Trunk, though he elaborates on them in his own way. Some of his own descriptions of overachievers:

  • They laugh — at themselves. And with others.
  • They are notorious list makers.
  • Their desk is usually clean and everything is organized.
  • They like to start things.
  • They ask about you so they can get a turn to talk about themselves.
  • They have an “I Love Me” wall in their home or office.

Finally, there’s “20 Things Overachievers Like” (Madison Moore), the article cited by Trunk as the predecessor to hers (i.e., the one she stole from). Here are several of the traits Moore lists:

  • Ignoring bodily signs such as hunger, fatigue, and a protruding bladder just until you can finish this last little part.
  • Being the teacher’s pet.
  • Coffee/Cocaine/Adderall/Etc.
  • Working out. There’s a difference between going to the gym because it’s nice to feel healthy and to be attractive and all that and going because you’re AN OVERACHIEVING FITNESS LUNATIC.
  • Humblebragging. Overachievers can’t admit to their overachieving ways. No no no. Plus you can’t pick them out in a crowd because they look exactly like regular people. It’s only when you talk to them that they oh-so-casually insert all of the fabulous things they’ve done and all the people they know and how much more accomplished they are than the rest of us lazy people.

On closer examination, overachieving, especially by Moore’s criteria, is not really my thing. So, do be on the lookout for somewhat less frequent posts in the future—including very possibly none during my vacation next week.

Looking forward to seeing you when I return!

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