Having high aspirations and taking active steps to reach your goals is good, right?
Well, it depends. As with anything in life, balance is incredibly important.
If you sacrifice one part of yourself so that another part can thrive – giving up on mental well-being in exchange for climbing up the corporate ladder, let’s say – you’re not exactly winning.
In other words, even achieving can be taken too far. The only question to ask yourself now is, “How can I tell if someone is an over-achiever?”
Here are the 8 signs.
1) They chase the glory of results
Sometimes, I play a game when I’m jogging.
I’ll keep running until I reach the next lamppost.
Alright, now I’ll sprint until I step foot on that bridge in the distance.
Assigning myself visible and achievable goals keeps me going even if I’m out of breath and feel like giving up. Unfortunately, it also means I’m not focused on the actual joy of jogging. It’s always about the breaks in between.
Over-achieving is a bit like that. You’re so preoccupied with chasing after your goals that you completely forget to live in the moment.
But here’s the catch: the future and the past are only illusions. One is getting lost in your imagination and the other is remembering what can no longer be brought back to life.
The present is the only time you truly live.
As the self-help author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
2) They want more, more, more
Let’s stay with our jogging anecdote for a moment.
Imagine you’ve reached the lamppost. This can be a promotion at work, an A for a university essay, a sold-out concert during your music tour, you name it.
It feels good. In fact, no – it feels fantastic.
But as you touch the lamppost, your gaze is already set on the bridge. No time to waste! Let’s get to the next big thing!
Ironically, over-achievers don’t stop to savor their achievements. They’re like hamsters on a wheel, running for eternity – or until they fall from exhaustion.
Today, take a step back. Think of all that you’ve achieved, all that you already have. Gratitude improves your well-being and helps you stay in the Now.
3) They avoid productive rest
Another great way to soak up the present moment and boost your happiness levels is to sit back and relax.
Unfortunately, over-achievers aren’t exactly great at that. When they finally get a break from work, they spend their time feeling guilty, worrying about tomorrow’s to-do list, and restlessly walking around.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not effective resting. Contrary to popular belief, rest is productive in its own way – as long as it’s done correctly. True rest is about taking the time to yourself and savoring every second of it, free of guilt.
Think of it as recharging your batteries. You can’t function at 100% if you’ve only charged up to 30%.
The incubation effect is a great example of this. It’s one of the key steps during any creative process wherein you completely stop thinking about a certain problem and engage in a relaxing activity.
As you’re taking a shower and singing, the unconscious part of your brain keeps mulling the issue over in the background. And then…
Ha! A lightbulb moment! Inspiration hits!
Sadly, over-achievers often don’t take the time to rest productively because they’re so preoccupied with work. Which means only one thing…
4) They’re workaholics
Yep, over-achievers practically live at their workplace. And if that’s not possible, they take the work home.
Unpaid overtime? What does it even mean? For over-achievers, that’s just another opportunity to go the extra mile.
However, giving so much of yourself to one part of your life inevitably means that other parts will suffer. Namely, your personal relationships.
The thing is, work or study accomplishments are easy to measure. And if there’s one thing over-achievers love, it’s ticking off boxes, counting numbers, and getting dopamine from the visual representation of their progress.
Human relationships, on the other hand, don’t come with an Excel spreadsheet that tracks your successes and failures.
Even so, the longest study on happiness has found that it’s precisely the quality of your personal relationships that determines your happiness above all else.
Sometimes, the best things in life can’t be measured.
5) They focus on failure as much as success
Speaking of measuring, over-achievers tend to measure just how careful they ought to be in order to avoid missteps. They view success as something that results from a lack of mistakes.
But success is the complete opposite. It’s about failing and picking yourself up again. It’s about knowing you’ll fail along the way and diving in anyway.
After all, winning is only worth it if the game is challenging. Life doesn’t make it easy for us.
When over-achievers tiptoe around risks and avoid failure at all cost, they’re not only sabotaging their success, but they’re also skyrocketing their anxiety levels.
When work is about achieving goals as much as preventing errors, you’re living in a constant state of fear that something will shatter the careful balance you’ve set up for yourself.
This means that over-achievers often display signs of stress, emotional overwhelm, and tension.
6) They rely on extrinsic motivation
Over-achievers are likely to burn out at some point or another.
Of course, the typical culprits are at play – working long hours, chasing goals that are more satisfying in your imagination than in reality, feeling stressed every day…
But there’s another factor that might contribute to the eventual loss of drive, and that’s the fact that over-achievers are often motivated extrinsically.
As opposed to intrinsic motivation, which is derived from your inner sense of fulfillment and joy, extrinsic motivation is oriented toward the outside world.
Think rewards. Think punishment. If you do X, you’ll receive praise, a bonus, a promotion. If you don’t do X, you’ll go unnoticed.
And for over-achievers, zero acknowledgment is the worst fate. It means you’re not important. In fact, no. It means you’re practically not even there.
7) They compete – a lot
Since over-achievers rely on other people’s validation to establish their self-worth, it’s common for them to be very competitive. They’re sore losers, too.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they love to compete with their colleagues or fellow students. Some over-achievers see themselves as the primary competitor. Last time, you ran three miles. Now, you have to run four. No buts.
While this is much better than comparing yourself to others, it’s also important to note that progress isn’t linear.
You might have run three miles last week, but today, you feel under the weather. Two miles in, and you’re completely exhausted.
An over-achiever would force themselves to reach four even if it means they’ll have to stay in bed for the next three days.
Someone with a balanced mindset, on the other hand, would understand that health is a priority and that showing up is a victory of its own, no matter how far you’ve run.
Some days will be better. Some days will be worse. That’s life.
8) They measure others by their own yardstick
If your mindset is to always put in extra effort and aim as high as you can, it’s easy to project these ideas onto others. In short, it’s easy to judge.
Over-achievers work hard. There’s no doubt about that.
But if you’re always on a quest to climb higher, your perception of others might shift. Suddenly, it feels like you’re looking down on them.
They’re lazy, you think. Their lack of drive is horrible, you think. I’m better because I work harder, you eventually think, too.
If you’re an over-achiever, be careful. Projections of this kind can give rise to arrogance.
Instead, develop a curious mindset. Everyone has a different approach to life, and another person’s peace might come across as laziness to those who think their path is the only one worth choosing.
What’s more, being friends with people who are the complete opposite of you can help you find the balance you need. Get inspired by their inner peace. Learn the value of slowness.
And realize that sometimes, goals can wait. Because life is happening now.