The Problem with Being an ‘Overachiever’

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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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101 thoughts on “The Problem with Being an ‘Overachiever’

  1. I understand your view one problem with us women is that we don’t celebrate each other and assist each other to reach the top we are always the first to talk nasty when a fellow female succeeds. We have many challenges but all in all we are resilient if we set our minds to it.

    1. Thanks Lisa. I understand the need for respect from men as well. They are a big part of the problem, but they are not the only problem. Like you said, we need to learn to support each other too – resilient or no.

  2. Thank you, Alexis. As I begun to read this post, I said to myself ‘a woman most probably was the one who said it’, and it was. I’m not really sure I understand why the women are the ones who have problems with successful women, even more than the men.

    1. Hi Amie! It’s funny you could guess the gender before it was done. Feminism and women’s rights have been too focused on only what men are doing wrong. We need to focus some of that attention on what’s going on within our sex/gender as well. So much hate!

  3. I have always been a proud “overachiever”. I guess it’s because it was my overcompensation for the feeling of inadequacy. Being an only child also pushed me towards achieving, I suppose. I didn’t even feel bad when 1st hubby said we were getting divorced because I was a career woman, not a mother, not a wife.
    I have been called a bitch or harsh. It comes with the territory, it seems. I got used to it. I was still the same kind, cheerful, inspiring friend to people outside of work. I’ve been always the Superwoman friend. I could do it all! 🙂
    I must say that I’ve been guilty of saying that there are indeed some women who sleep their way to the top. It infuriates me because I have always worked hard. It is a sad truth that there are those. Over and above the hard work, I had to always be more assertive. I had a lot to prove being Asian even in post-Apartheid South Africa.
    I have learned to accept and I just keep going for my goals. 🙂

    1. Hi Anne. Thanks for sharing this!

      I wonder if a tendency towards “overachieving” is related to being an only child, as I am as well. Kids with siblings can pass accountability on to each other, but we really bear the full load of our parent’s ambitions.

      Good, strong men are not intimidated by a woman with drive. They welcome it. They embrace it. They are grateful for having a partner to build an empire with, instead of a beggar queen. Some men prefer that and kudos to them. We are not their match.

      I’ve been called all the same things as you, and heard the same complaints, from the same people. As I said in the post, they can all either get with the program and raise their standards or fall behind. I will never make the mistake again of setting my career and ambitions aside for love, marriage, or family life. The misery! LoL. It is never worth it, not to me, and not when the decision is almost forced upon us or taken for granted.

      Keep on being you – as awesome as ever!

  4. My life flashed before my eyes reading this Alex. Part one – Women/girls bashing other women/girls for wanting “more” when that more to me was realyl just the first rung up. IPart two- I was bored out of my socks all through school but still got good grades. I an American who was never into drugs (so now you know one) and always had better things to do. I wanted to learm way more than zone out.

    At university I found I had more in common with the foreign students than the Americans. Maybe it’s one reason I began teaching ESL.later in life My immigrant students are so much more motivated than the America kids I’ve had to work with, But then for years the parents of those kids didn’t push education and acted like people in in countries like Korea should slack off rather than they work harder to compete. I loved living in Korea. They set a bar for achievement that made me raise mine and I’m very grateful.

    1. Wow, Angela! You’re definitely the only American not from an immigrant background (maybe you are?) that I’ve had admit that.

      It is sad that women feel like we need to scramble over each other to get to the top. It’s ridiculous really. We should be cheering each other on.

      I loved that you read the comments too and can challenge some of the thoughts there. I don’t see what boredom has to do with achievement either. Boredom is not an excuse to slack off. I spent my class time playing video games and tweeting to kill the boredom, but I heard every word the teacher said, and my notes were so impeccable I was the go-to person to borrow them from lol.

      I also love that you realize how much different education is treated in other countries, esp in the Third World and esp for girls.

      And kudos on being drug free! You’re a unicorn!

  5. Great article! I love your take on this idea. I can totally relate, though as a fellow workaholic/overachiever, I definitely do think we run the risk of burning out from time to time or feeling like we can never be good enough. However, I’d take that any day over losing my drive. :]

    1. Thanks Katta! I do believe burnout is definitely a risk we take, but anyone who is passionate about anything goes through that. Look at writers and painters and musicians who go on creative binges.

      I can’t say I’ve ever really felt like I’ll never be good enough, not since adulthood anyway. I conquered that demon in college, but I do understand that a lot of passionate people still struggle with that. We are always striving for perfection.

      You are good enough!

      By the way, I was snooping around your blog earlier and totally forgot you do entertainment pieces. Feel free to pitch me a piece for the http://www.godigioblog.com, and I’ll be sure to send any media interviews that turn up on my desk your way. I hate doing them 😃😂

      1. I’m glad you’ve haven’t felt the ‘never be good enough’ bug, because you’re pretty damn awesome far as I can tell.
        Thank you! 😀
        Yep, I do. Thanks! I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I’ve got a full-time job right now, so I’m scaling back the freelance work, but I’m always open to new opportunities. Please do! That could be fun. :]

      2. I moved across the country so I got a ‘real world’ job and now work at an occult/metaphysical bookstore. Go figure haha.

      3. I do actually, a lot more than I thought I would. I’ve never spent much time in the Midwest, so I had some preconceived notions about it, but so far, Minneapolis is much more open and metropolitan than I expected.

      4. I know what you mean. The most racist people I’ve ever met are from the Midwest, not the South. Weird, isn’t it? That’s also the one place I saw the most confederate flags. >_<

        I've never heard anything bad about Minneapolis though. What fun stuff do they have to do up there?

      5. That’s unfortunate, but I can believe it. :[ It’s VERY white in a lot of places up here, especially the rural ones.
        Minneapolis is actually pretty diverse, we’re taking in a lot of refugees. Let’s see, I’m still relatively new and have been working a lot but there’s a lot of great lakes to visit, so lots of fishing, also we get a lot of concerts and a lot of pagans, so interesting events there. We also have the Mall of America, of course and a huge St. Paddy’s celebration in St. Paul. And there’s always something going on at the university. Also, sports, snow stuff, and hunting.

      6. That does sound like fun! Sounds like good paddle boarding spots as well. I’ve always been reluctant to do that here because the water is so dark. Dark water creeps me out. In Jamaica you can see all the way through to the bottom, or we usually don’t go in there lol.

      7. I’m sure there are. Oh yeah, it creeps me out a bit too now that you mention it haha. I haven’t seen very much super clear water, actually either. Only once when I was on Catalina Island. Hm. Should remedy that someday.

      8. Wow. Jeez. I definitely have a lot to say about that, but this probably isn’t the right venue. Rest assured though, I did not come back from Catalina pregnant (nor did anyone else as far as I know) haha. Though I think one couple had a rather dramatic and public break up on the boat back.

      9. A couple of girls on church camping trips used it as an excuse to go have a good time with the boys in the woods, so she had good reason to worry. I heard some interesting stories for the girls themselves. But I was more likely to climb trees than onto a guy. Haha.

        Glad you had fun though!

  6. I never was called an overachiever, though my actual achievements were often overlooked. The whole concept is ridiculous. Who is defining “over?” Then there is the constant attack of “underachiever” placed on kids. These are ones who “test” higher than they “perform” in school. I always figured school was boring them to tears. I had many such students in my art college. They just had been uninterested in the high school curriculum. They took off in art school.

    1. I agree and disagree with you.

      Female success is less celebrated than male success, so it doesn’t surprise me that much of what you accomplished was swept under the rug. I would like to know who put a cap on achievement as well to decide when there’s too much or “over”.

      However, there are standards set for basic achievement at different stages in our lives, especially in school, and to fall beneath that is to objectively under achieve, even if it’s only temporary.

      I was bored out of my wits in my classes too. Still aced them. 😂 Boredom isn’t an excuse to skip out on work.

      I do agree, however, that school isn’t always a good test of abilities. It’s a general construct for people who may have specialized skills. But there are many who breeze through that obstacle anyway.

      Keep in mind that our education system in Jamaica is rigorous and the govt has openly admitted it’s set to fail students who aren’t alert and dedicated. Whereas America follows a more “no child left behind” routine. So my opinions may differ drastically from yours based on that experience.

      1. I do see your point. I also know some kids get a “pass” on achievement in the U.S., particularly children of color. I have seen it first hand. They aren’t usually labeled underachievers, however, as much as incapable. A much worse label.

      2. I’ve actually heard the word “underachiever” thrown at minority students at public schools. The worst part is when this is thrown at special needs children though, of any race.

        But my gripe is with the people who want to put a cap on other people’s achievements, so they can feel better about their lives or their children’s. It’s really unfair, especially when they are in positions to limit you, such as management etc.

  7. You are so right about old-fashioned attitudes towards women! My husband and I are teachers in the same school and when our son was sick a few years ago, I stayed at home for the first couple of days, but as I didn’t want my students to miss out too much on theit lessons, I asked DH to stay at home on the third day so that I could teach. When I got to work, the Deputy Head said to me that it someone needed to stay at home it should be me that they needed my husband more. I was mortified and outraged in equal measure and I just couldn’t believe that such attitudes are still held in the west in the 21st century: truly disgusting. Sob. 😥😥😥

    1. Are you serious??? Why did they believe they needed the husband more? And how could they even presume to tell you which one of you should stay home?? That’s for you and your husband to decide! I would have been so upset!

      My goodness! I hope these attitudes change soon. It’s so sad to me how many men don’t care about women’s rights until they have a daughter as an only child, and even worse, how many men still don’t care in that situation.. 😕

      1. I’m deadly serious. I still hurst every time I think about it. My husband teaches Art, Photography and Graphics and I used to teach Spanish, English as an additional language and give Dyslexia support. His subjects were considered more important than mine. I gave up teaching Spanish because I wasn’t given due credit and support. I found it terribly painful and gave me a lot of heartache, to the point where I had an argument with the Headmaster and ended up having a panic/anxiety attack and doctor signed me off work for 3 weeks. I gave up teaching Spanih in school after that and only do it privately now. It beggars belief.

      2. I’m sorry to hear that Fatima. That would discourage anyone. It certainly would irk me. I’m glad you’re teaching privately though. This is why a lot of women are leaving the work force and becoming entrepreneurs these days.

        Language is a very important skill, and so many people lack that skill. My generation is terrible at communication.

        I’m sorry the dyslexic kids lost your invaluable support as well. 🙁

      3. I’m glad you stayed to work with them, at least. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish for years. I just can’t seem to stick with it. Once I get to the conjugations, I become discouraged.

      4. Oh no! That happens to a lot of people: they get discouraged by the comp!exity of the grammar, but please don’t give up. Concentrate on your fluency rather than grammatical accuracy. Peop!e will understand you anyway and mignt even help you: it’s in our nature. Just do it for the fun of it! Enjoy! 👍

      5. So somehow my WordPress unfollowed you, but I should be following again!

        The grammar is really not any more complicated than English, but I grew up with those complications! Haha.

        I do realise Spanish people are not only helpful, but very proud of their language. I am really rusty, but I’ll work on it again.

        Thanks for the encouragement!

  8. Since moving to Northern California I have been called an overachiever over and over again. People just can’t figure out why I choose to spend my time trying to better myself, instead of getting drunk and high. The culture in my area is not one that encourages success, and those who are determined to get somewhere simply don’t fit in. It’s actually quite shocking: I’ve never lived in a place where having a strong work ethic is considered a bad thing by so many people.

    1. I love that you mentioned the alternative being getting drunk and high.

      Since I moved here a lot of people try to make me feel bad for not doing drugs, and even make remarks about how hardworking my parents are.

      I don’t understand it at all. I guess it’s not just me then.

      1. That’s been my experience too. It’s almost as if we’re violating some sacred social norm in the US by not doing drugs, and by trying to make something of ourselves. Or maybe people just want to drag us down to their level, because they can’t stand to see others succeed. I don’t know: I have a lot of anger surrounding this issue.

      2. I’ve become so frustrated with it that I’ve been gravitating more towards immigrant groups.

        Also I have never met an American that did not smoke, or do drugs, or used to. Not one time, not ever. I’ve always wondered about that.

      3. I’ve known a few Americans that don’t smoke or do drugs, and that to my knowledge never have. But we don’t exactly go around letting people know that we don’t do those things, because it’s so anti-normative.

      4. I always ask and I’ve never met one – male or female, black or white. Not saying they don’t exist. Just haven’t crossed paths with one at all. Maybe some of them lied. Who knows?

      5. They might’ve lied in order to appear more ‘cool,’ but I don’t think that’s likely. At any rate, I know where you can find one American who doesn’t do drugs or smoke. Or maybe I’m actually a Canadian spy…

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