Are You an Overachiever Like Me? It’s Self-Sabotage, and the Only Way to End the Downward Spiral Is to Stop

Dawn Bevier

When I let go of the pressure to perform, the end results were better than I ever thought possible

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I’m an early riser. You know the old adage that “the early bird gets the worm”? Well, I spread my wings around four am each morning in hopes of catching the devil. The problem is when I do manage to catch him, I always see his best friend squirming around saying, “Now come and get me.”

And this is an endless cycle for me and all the other members of the “overachiever’s club.” And if you’re reading this article, you’ve also probably got a membership card. We can’t celebrate one success because we are looking ahead to the next goal we have for ourselves, the next hurdle we can jump, and the next dragon we can slay.

And what’s worse is that instead of giving ourselves credit for the strides we are making, we give ourselves a mental beating for not being faster on our climb to the top.

Case in point.

I juggle full time teaching with parenting two children who are home all day learning virtually. My husband works each evening, so I am responsible for cleaning the god-awful destruction site they have made of my house during the school day. I am responsible for figuring out the algebra problem they can’t solve, which by the way, I am not successful at, and I am responsible for making dinner, defusing teen-age drama, and making sure the clothes are washed and the dogs are fed.

As overachievers do, I see my day as a full-time construction site, and these things above are only laying the floorboards. And it’s frustrating because I want to build a damn house.

So, I put more pressure on myself to accomplish all of the “must-dos” on my neverending quest to self-actualize.

And if you find yourself living in “overdrive” as well, you need to stop and put the car in park for a minute.

The problem with the overachiever’s “Superhero Complex”

In these times we live in, simply managing to get through the day is a feat of monumental proportion. We’re talking a Superman beats Lex Luthor kind of victory. And if you’re expecting a lot more of yourself, the ironic thing is you’re doing more harm than good.

Your creative faculties and problem-solving abilities are suffering because your body and brain are never at rest. The depression and anxiety you’ve got going on over your inability to give more, do more, and be more are sapping the very energy you need to be productive.

But that doesn’t matter, does it? If you’re like me, that is. If we stop doing, if we get off the hamster wheel for just one moment, we fear we’ll undo all our progress. Am I right? I know I am because I’m just like you.

So we continue to charge. Straight ahead. No retreat.

We’ll for the last two days I’ve done something I very rarely do. I’ve stepped off the hamster wheel. I’ve withdrawn from the battle temporarily to see if what those people say is true, you know those people we high achievers never listen to. The ones who say “be kind to yourself” or “give yourself a break,” or “show yourself some compassion.”

And the results? They’ve been amazing.

Now that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to do things that will help move me closer to my goals. After all, we overachievers cannot wean ourselves from the drug of accomplishment that quickly. It simply means that I have chosen to not assign a “due date” for the completion of those things that I feel I need to do to progress in life.

The changes I’ve incorporated and the wonderful power that comes with doing less

Remember my “early bird” status that I mentioned before? I’m still an early riser, but when I wake now at my regularly scheduled four am, I have a glass of water and make myself lie back down. It’s been hard, but every day it’s gotten a little easier. I now wake up at around five-thirty. My brain is clearer, my body is more ready to tackle the day, and I just feel more centered.

And now when I get home after school, I don’t try to spend my time making my house pristine. After all, is a home with two teens ever pristine, especially when both parents work?

I do repair some of the damage within my four walls simply because it’s easier to make my way through the wasteland without spraining an ankle, but then I tell my children to give me “me time.” The algebra? It can wait. The ugly Instagram post that has “ruined” my daughter’s life? I will share her grief in a half-hour, but not now.

Do you know what I do? I take a bath. A slow one. Just me and extremely hot water. There is no furious scrubbing and shampooing so that I can hop out and put on my cape again. And when I emerge from that exotic island, I am reborn. It’s almost a new day. The energy I had in the morning? It’s back. And there’s a sense of tranquility to go along with it.

At this point, I am much more ready to don my superhero costume again. For a little while at least. And if I hadn’t given myself the self-compassion to stop the madness and get off the production line that has been my life, that costume would have lain on top of my mile-high load of laundry simply because I was too damn tired to put it on again.

The bottom line:

Novelist Anne Lamott says that “almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

So step back. Listen to what your body and spirit need. If you don’t, let me warn you. These two things are way more stubborn than you are, and they’ll make you slow down one way or another. You just have the choice to do it in the bathtub or the hospital. I’m choosing the bath.

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My goal is to provide you with thoughtful, informative, and inspirational content that may increase your productivity, relationships, and well-being.

Sanford, NC
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