Understanding and Overcoming Your Overachieving Identity

Most people want to succeed in life, but does your desire to achieve ever feel like it’s stopping you from truly enjoying the present moment? Do you find yourself prioritizing having a certain status over relationships or other meaningful activities?

If so, you may identify as an overachiever. The classic overachiever generally presents as highly functioning. They look great on paper, and most people look at them and think, Wow, they really have it all together!

If this is you, deep inside, there’s a good chance that you feel the gravity of all that pressure. Maybe you realize you struggle with workaholism or perfectionism. At the same time, you can feel this gnawing void, and you sense yourself desperately trying to fill that void with work and projects and people and obligations.

Sometimes, you may even fantasize about escaping your life altogether. Maybe, at times, you even do escape- through endless scrolling on social media, substance use, or shopping. Part of you seeks relief, but you may not know how to give yourself that gift in ways that feel adaptive.

You probably know it’s time to take a break, but the reality is, you don’t know how. And when you do allow yourself to rest, you often find yourself saddled with guilt and worry.


Is Overachieving A Bad Thing?

In general, labeling any human trait as good or bad is problematic. We’re all whole people with complex personalities. Our behaviors, even the ones that seem undesirable, are designed to help us both survive and connect.

In addition, overachieving is rooted in good intentions. Overachievers want to avoid failure and achieve more success. They also want others to accept them (even if they struggle to accept themselves).

But the overachieving mindset becomes problematic when all the doing feels compulsive and when making even a minor mistake feels catastrophic. It’s true that high achievers tend to be successful, but they often struggle with low self-esteem and low self-worth. Collecting new achievements doesn’t fix those issues- sometimes, it even makes them stronger.

There can be a dark side to the drive for success. In their quest for going bigger and bolder, overachievers face the risk of self-doubt, burnout, stress, relationship problems, and health issues.


How Do You Overcome Overachieving?

Overcoming overachieving takes time and effort. The process of change often feels uncomfortable, especially if success feels like a fundamental part of your identity.

That said, you can learn how to find happiness in ways that aren’t driven by achievements or external accomplishments. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Overcoming Your Overachieving Identity

Recognize Where It Comes From

Children aren’t born holding very high standards for themselves. Just look at a baby stubbornly trying to walk. They have no problem falling again and again.

Striving for perfection is a learned desire that often has childhood origins. The child who is praised for what they do (instead of for who they inherently are) may learn that they must perform to be loved. The opposite can also be true. The child who is often criticized or scapegoated may feel this pressure to prove everyone wrong, and they react by trying to be the absolute best at all times.


Seek Support For Trauma

A relentless drive to succeed sometimes becomes a way to cope with trauma. People sometimes occupy themselves with school, work, or other tasks to avoid coping with their feelings. For a while, this method seems to work- but emotions and discomfort always fall through the cracks. You can’t outperform your own pain.

Overachievers tend to intellectualize, minimize, or suppress their needs. Trauma therapy, such as EMDR, offers a supportive environment to actually understand your feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.


Practice Failing

Many high performers avoid trying things because they don’t want to struggle. Sometimes, this coincides with procrastination or stagnation. You may feel so consumed by a fear of failure (or even mediocrity) that you don’t want to make any effort at all.

Working through this requires consistently exposing yourself to situations where high achievement isn’t guaranteed. Eventually, you will learn that certain tasks don’t require perfection. You will also learn that you can sometimes have fun even when you aren’t a master!

Your Overachieving Identity

Schedule Downtime and Self-Care

Many overachievers have no problem keeping a meticulous schedule for all their essential tasks. You can use this skill to your advantage by also scheduling time for rest. At least once a day, prioritize up to half an hour to unwind and do whatever you feel like. Ideally, try to block off at least one half-day or full day per month for more extended self-care.

You may find part of you resisting this downtime. That’s to be expected, but notice the thoughts that emerge. For example, you might hear yourself saying, I’m being so lazy. Or, I don’t have time to rest!

Acknowledge these thoughts and practice holding space for them without letting them change. If you want to change your mindset, you have to start by taking care of yourself.


Embrace ‘Good Enough’ When Possible

It’s exhausting to use excessive effort in everything you do. If your expectations are always high, it can feel like you’re always running on fumes.

Consider thinking about your most important values in life. What is most meaningful to you? What feels non-negotiable? Then, consider the tasks that you believe take too much of your time and energy. How can you shift your mental load? What might you consider delegating, eliminating, or putting off to a later date?

Overachievers often have the tendency to prioritize everything they do as essential. But life is short, and there’s no real prize for getting everything done perfectly. The more you can focus on what truly matters, the more fulfilling life will feel.


Therapy for High Achievers in Washington State

Overachieving is often rooted in other mental health issues, like anxiety, trauma, and sometimes depression. Achieving superior results has its place, but it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of your emotional well-being.

Therapy can help you learn how to value yourself, regardless of your achievements. Together, we’ll unpack the triggers driving you to overachieve, the parts that feel scared of failure, and we’ll aim to restore more balance and compassion in your life.

I am here to support you on your journey! Contact me today to set up a consultation.