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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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!