The Problem with Being an ‘Overachiever’

I was called an overachiever for the first time in 2015 – and by another woman. The remark came after a discussion of childhood schooling, where she measured her son’s track record against my own.

The remark caught me completely by surprise. What did it mean exactly? Is there something wrong with personal success? Am I supposed to lower my standards? Work less hard? Set fewer goals?

Was it because I am a woman?

Achievement in Jamaica

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Prior to moving to the United States, I don’t remember ever hearing the word ‘overachiever’. In Jamaica, you’re either hardworking, or lazy – gender be damned!

In Jamaica, it’s also common for females to excel in school – more so than males. We also outnumber them in college classrooms; and then outnumber them again in most areas of the work force; and have a much higher literacy rate.

According to expert sources, like the American Psychology Association, this is the case in most countries where both sexes have equal access to education – all around the world.

In Jamaica, parents teach girls that we will not have the same freedoms as boys. So our focus is always geared towards personal success. When we achieve it, isn’t overachievement. It’s just achievement.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still people looking on and turning green with envy.

The Role of Gender

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In fact, I’ve noticed that female success is less celebrated than male success. When a man succeeds, he is successful. When a woman succeeds, she is bitchy, bossy, and probably sleeping with the boss.

A father with a successful career must be a great provider for his family. His wife and kids must be so proud! The wife especially is very lucky to find a hardworking man like that.

A mother with a successful career is spending time away from home that she should be spending with her children. How can she be a mother and work those long hours? And business trips out of town, too? Say it ain’t so!

These remarks often come, not just from men, but other women as well. If it’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that the oppressed likes to oppress.

It’s a dog-eat-dog market, and a lot of women will happily trip you on the road to success.

Let Them Talk

In fact, the tripping started pretty early in my life. I went to an All-Girls Catholic school and in my final two years, where we choose our focus, I got moved to a new stream of classes.

There were three English classes ranked by difficulty, and my Cuban friend and I were the top two English students in the hardest class. Soon enough, the other girls began to spread rumors that we were sleeping with the English teacher.

We usually sat at the back of the class, so I moved all the desks out of my way, and Ingrid moved our desks to the front. That put us literally just inches from the English teacher’s desk.

Let them talk.

Setting High Standards

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One of the things I’ve grappled with for years, is people who know little and less of me, telling me my standards are too high. My family and friends, thankfully, know better.

I have a reputation in my circle. If I say I’m going to do something, it gets done. There is no if, but, or maybe about it.

One of my friends jokes that at this point, if I told him I planned to move to the moon, he would believe me. So since my standards almost always come to fruition, are they really too high?

Accountability

My mother’s thoughts on this are that people who don’t set high standards, fail to do so because they don’t believe they can do it. And parents who don’t hold their children accountable to high standards fail to teach them the value of accountability, perseverance, and hard work.

This sounds obvious enough, doesn’t it? But the hidden message is that low standards are often equal to lack of belief in oneself and in your abilities – or low self-esteem.

Of course, there are some people out there who genuinely have no enthusiasm for life, and don’t give two flying figs about failure and success.

But I have yet to meet such a person, who didn’t suffer from low self-esteem; never mind that they often tried to hide it behind the tacky cover-up of excessive and insincere self-confidence.

The Lesson from Failure

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Even with failure, there are many and more lessons to learn about yourself and your capabilities. So far, every venture I’ve taken on by myself has resulted in success. Goals I take on with other people have not always gone over so well.

Last year, especially, taught me that if we don’t work with people who have experienced, shared, and worked towards the same standards as ourselves, the only reasonable expectation is constant disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Once we can acknowledge this about ourselves and others, and we take responsibility for our own personal successes, life is a much easier ball game.

Never lower your standards; find clients, colleagues, friends, and love interests who complement your own.

The Final Verdict

So what, then, is the problem with being an overachiever? The “problem” is that regardless of gender:

There is no such thing as an “overachiever” – just jealous “underachievers” trying to throw shade.

If you or your kids have been labelled an overachiever, this isn’t your problem to fix. It’s for other people to raise their standards, and get with the program.

Life moves on, even when we do not. We can either choose to stay ahead of the game, or fall behind and kick rocks.

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Have you or your kids ever been called an overachiever? Who threw the label your way, and what was your reaction? Have you also noticed a tendency to paint successful or hardworking women in a negative light?

Sound off in the comments below!

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98 Comments Add yours

  1. Very interesting. But Alex, what about the subject choices for both genders in schools in Jamaica? I mean were the girls encouraged to take on easier subjects than boys like for instance fine arts and sociology or vice versa?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My school was ALL girls, so we didn’t have that problem. We were split into two streams: the pure sciences in one, and arts and business in the other. There was an equal number of students in both streams.

      The only course not offered at our school that was more masculine was technical drawing, and we were allowed to take classes at other schools if we wanted to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Ok. The encouragement is commendable. And by the way I believe that women have more aptitude for technical drawing because of the required attention towards details and patience

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You might be right about women and the technical drawing. I was pretty good at that and physics, but I chose to major in arts and business instead. I’ve always been the creative type.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing this!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. geekkat says:

    I was having a very similar discussion with a lady I consider a friend. She was telling me I push my children too hard that I can be a “tiger mom” (I hate that term…but that’s anther discussion) toward my kids just because I have higher expectations of them then the average person. I was always told growing up I had to make a choice in the way I wanted to live. Whatever choice I made, I had to make it the best I possibly could. Like you I have run into that same term “overachiever”, pushy, bitchy…etc. I never considered myself an overachiever just because everything I did growing up was expected. It was normal for me. As an adult, it just followed. I have pretty much learned to smile and ignore it because in the end I am the one that has to deal with what I am. I

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re definitely handling it the right way. My mom was pretty tough on me as a kid.

      I was homeschooled AND went to prep school at the same time. If I got an A-, we were going through that paper to figure out what I did wrong, so I didn’t make that mistake again.

      I am grateful for that experience. Having a mother who didn’t just push, but genuinely believed I could achieve those things made me want to go for it, and I did.

      I went all the way through school on honor roll – by college I graduated top of my major. I wish the same and more for your kids!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and drop me a comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on COLLEGE MATE and commented:

    There is no such thing as an “overachiever” – just jealous “underachievers” trying to throw shade.

    Like

  4. doctorinspe says:

    ‘Overachiever: a person who performs better or has more succes than expected’. In my opinion being an overachiever is more of a compliment. You are called overachiever because you belong to two groups who are often discriminated (Jamaican &female) but also because someone didn’t expect you to do that well. At the same time it’s stereotyping. Belief that non-americans or females don’t do as well. It’s small minded.

    I however have to disagree on telling people to raise their own standards. We live in a world where students take medication to reach those high standards. There is too much pressure to perform and excel at everything we do. Why would you want to put even more pressure on children?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by!

      People generally don’t say “overachiever” as a compliment, unless it’s a backhanded one. That’s like me calling a female friend a “bitch” – lovingly.

      And the woman who called me that, and the many others since, did not mean it as a compliment. It was followed by rolling eyes, a sigh, and remarks about my mother’s parenting style. Like you said, it’s stereotyping and small-minded.

      As for calling on other people to raise their standards, I was referring to people who COMPLAIN about overachievers – not the whole world. As I said in the article, some people just don’t care about those things, and that’s fine.

      I aced my first 2 years of college while depressed, and the next 4 years with 4 heart conditions, without medication. So I can’t speak to people needing medication to succeed because they are going through a tough time. Americans medicate more than any other country I know.

      I also think pressure is a good thing. Diamonds don’t appear from being coddled. Strength comes from overcoming pressure and obstacles. Kids who never learn to do that are the ones who shrink away from the first sight of a challenge later on in life.

      To each their own!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is fascinating, and a lot of food for thought. Then again, I get that a lot here, which is why I keep coming back

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cynthia. What part of the article provoked thought for you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really liked that girls not discouraged from education. Here in America, girls are primed with Barbie dolls and pink things and pale purple Legos designed for girls……

        I also like how you made me examine what’s going on in me when I say somebody is an overachiever. Am I jealous because they’re more sociable than I am, and have translated that into career success? Lots of food for thought 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jamaican women are taught to be strong and to fend for ourselves.

        My mother always told me, “I could die tomorrow. Who will take care of you then? You have to know how to take care of yourself.”

        She wasn’t even a single mom, but she was insistent that I learn to fend for myself.

        I don’t think “overachiever” is always said maliciously, but most times it’s not meant to be a compliment. I can think of one or two times when the person wasn’t trying to be mean, but most times it’s said as if to “put me in my place”.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great read!!
    For now.. I think girls have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. A quote I always loved by Ginger Rogers (a famous dancing actress)
    “Us women not only have to so the same as men, we do it backwards and in heels!” 🤣😂😅

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is a great quote. I originally did have a header in the article about working twice as hard to get half as far, but then removed it. So you are not far off!

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. bexoxo says:

    I was always called a teachers pet growing up. I would usually respond by saying I’d rather get attention for success than failure. I think my responses scared most of my peers off, because I never got the same label from anyone a second time. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a good answer.

      I didn’t get called a teacher’s pet, because most of my teachers started sweating the second I walked in haha.

      I always had questions, and sometimes they couldn’t answer them. I challenged every assumption. They suggested I do law, but I didn’t want to.

      It was so bad that when I got the award for social studies, which is a huge compliment to the teacher, she didn’t even congratulate me. She rolled her eyes and walked away. LoL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. bexoxo says:

        That’s horrible!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I suppose it was, but it didn’t bother me. I challenged her the most of all our teachers, because she always stressed reading the textbook (which I did), but then what she taught wasn’t always in agreement with what was in the book. Didn’t make any sense lol

        Liked by 1 person

  8. So wonderfully said Alex. Everyone wants to label.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, they do. Better to let people label themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great response. Yes some label themselves within minutes and others over time. We just know we have enough of our own stuff to work on.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved reading this as I also grew up in the Caribbean and while sexism definitely exists here, I rarely saw/experienced it within education. Boys and girls were always given the same treatment in classrooms and we were all encouraged to take a foreign language, science and a business subject, along with anything else we were interested in. I’ve never thought much about how that’s different in other countries/regions and loved that you highlighted it here so thank you for giving me a new perspective on the topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maxine! Your name alone gives your Jamaican background away! That’s my mother’s name, too. I’ve never met a Maxine that wasn’t Jamaican 🙂

      I’m glad you can verify how mostly unbiased our education system was back home.

      I also feel like my success was more respected at home, and I was EXPECTED to have a career and be busy, even by men.

      Since being in America, people actually want to make me feel bad for getting good grades, for working hard, for not doing drugs, and for the successes I’ve gained so far. Not on my blogs, for sure, but in person.

      I don’t know if it’s who I’ve been running into, but it doesn’t paint a very good picture for how women are treated here…

      Thank you for dropping by. I hope you check out the other Jamaican pieces I’ve written too – see if you agree!

      Liked by 1 person

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