Do you feel that no matter what or how much you've achieved, it's never quite enough? That as soon as you reach one goal, you’re in search of another? If so, you might be stuck in the overachievement trap. Here are ways to break free from your need to prove your worth through your accomplishments and feel more satisfied with your successes.
Like many of you, I've pushed myself to excel in school and throughout my career. However, I never really felt satisfied regardless of what or how much I achieved. I thought if I just earned the next degree, promotion, raise, new job, etc., I'd (finally) be content.
The sad truth is that I never was. Even when I accomplished my goal, my sense of gratification was fleeting. Instead, I'd find myself thinking, "What's next?"
Do you find that you're never quite satisfied with your success? Consider the following:
You still feel inadequate, despite your many accomplishments
You believe you are only as good as what you achieve
You move to the next goal without taking time to celebrate your successes
You often feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled after reaching your goals
The Overachievement Trap
Do you ever say to yourself, "I'll finally be satisfied when I (fill in the blank)?" Yet when you accomplish this goal, the feeling of contentment is fleeting? If so, you might be caught in the overachievement trap.
Chronic overachievement isn't about striving for excellence. It's about our need to prove our worthiness. It’s often rooted in feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that stem from childhood. Whether for making good grades or winning awards, many of us earned praise and approval primarily for what we did. Not for who we are. These messages become internalized as "I am only as good as what I achieve."
We all feel a need to prove ourselves at times, yet we get caught in the overachievement trap when we feel compelled to achieve more and more as evidence of our worthiness. But it's never enough.
Like the mythical Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill for all eternity, this relentless pursuit of our “good enoughness” becomes an exercise in futility with no ending in sight.
How it Gets in Our Way
The need to constantly prove ourselves through our achievements often leaves us feeling unfulfilled and can get in the way of enjoying our well-earned accomplishments. It also distracts us from pursuing more authentic and intrinsically motivating goals that support the bigger vision of our careers.
Similar to the struggle with perfectionism, overachievers often feel that their work is never quite good enough. This leaves them feeling drained, overwhelmed, and exhausted as they strive to keep up with their own high expectations.
The problem isn't in our desire to push ourselves and do well. It’s that we use our achievements to compensate for what we believe we lack. If you find yourself stuck in this trap, here are some ways to let go of your need to prove your worth through your accomplishments and be more satisfied with your successes.
1. Connect Your Achievement to Its Larger Purpose
Sometimes we get so caught up in our need to achieve that we lose sight of why we pursued the goal in the first place. So before long, your interest in publishing an article on social media becomes about getting more "likes" rather than sharing your ideas.
Pursuing a goal without connecting it to its larger purpose is like picking a vacation spot without asking yourself why you want to go or what you hope to do once you get there. You may arrive at your destination but end up feeling disappointed because it’s not what you expected.
Similarly, ask yourself what you expect the goal will do for you once you achieve it. How will it support the larger vision or purpose of your career? Without this clarity, your achievement will likely leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled.
2. Identify the Underlying Need
After years of running her law firm, Judy suddenly decided to pursue a judgeship. While she was happy and successful as a sole practitioner, she thought becoming a judge was more prestigious.
We aren't always satisfied with our achievements because many of the goals we set for ourselves reflect some unmet need that we think the achievement will satisfy. So Judy’s aspiration to become a judge may be more about her underlying desire to be respected by others rather than the opportunity itself.
While basking in the admiration of her peers may feel validating in the moment, her satisfaction will be short-lived because it won’t fully address her fundamental need for others' approval.
If you find yourself in a pattern of chasing similar goals, try to identify what may be beneath this drive. Ask yourself how you want to feel once you achieve this goal. The answer might offer a clue to what you think you’re missing.
3. Focus on the Process, Not Just the Result
Success isn’t just about the outcome. It's also about the journey itself. Healthy achievers strive for success because they enjoy the process, whereas overachievers are in it for the gold star.
For most of my career, this was certainly the case for me as I accumulated one professional credential after another. However, when I decided to become certified as a coach, I focused on staying present during the entire training process. While I still earned the designation, I also relished the journey of mastering these skills.
If you want to focus more on the process rather than just the result, try pursuing goals without a definitive outcome. Consider learning something you find inherently motivating and fulfilling. If you enjoy the journey, you might care less about reaching your goal.
4. Celebrate Your Successes
Do you find yourself jumping from one goal to the next without pausing to celebrate your success? This is often the case for many overachievers who rarely savor the fruits of their efforts. Yet, research shows that pausing to acknowledge even small wins can enhance your mood and motivation.
Take stock of the accomplishments you’ve already made and celebrate these victories. Make it a point to routinely reflect on all of your achievements. Not just newsworthy ones, but also those that reflect your personal wins. So congratulate yourself for exceeding your monthly billables, but also for finally starting on that project you've been procrastinating about.
Want to Let Go of Your Need to Achieve?
Letting go of your need to achieve can be challenging because this tendency has probably benefited your career in some way. Yet it doesn’t mean you need to give up on your goals or lower your standards. You can still aim high, just don’t equate your accomplishments with your worthiness as a person.
Is your need to achieve holding you back from experiencing more success and satisfaction in your career? If so, please contact me to learn how I can help. You are also welcome to schedule a complimentary coaching session to experience the power of coaching to help you "get out of your own way" so you can realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, PCC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator