Being the office overachiever might feel good, what with all the pats on the back and thumbs ups from your boss. But there's a fine line between doing your best work and being a chronic overachiever, which can set you up for failure. Here's why you might want to rethink that "I can do it all" attitude.
Image by Nick Criscuolo.
If you're a chronic overachiever, however, being adequate isn't ever enough. Occasionally, giving your work that extra something is the right thing to do, but making a habit of it turns your overachievement into your new work baseline. That sounds like a good thing, but it can actually lead to some serious problems. Some of these problems can actually hinder your work, cause more stress and burnout, or even cause you to hate what you do and who you work with. Worst of all, it can actually keep you from achieving things; and that defeats the purpose of overachieving in the first place.
You'll Strive for Perfection Instead of Productivity
Being perfect is, of course, impossible, but if you're an overachiever, you won't always see it that way. Perfectionism, or the active pursuit of doing everything as perfectly as possible, can become a part of every single task you do. The new work baseline you've set for yourself by constantly overachieving at your job can turn even the simplest of to-dos into an opportunity to strive for pristine flawlessness.
So what's wrong with trying to do everything as perfectly as possible? According to psychologist Adrian Furnham, perfectionism is actually considered a handicap in the psychiatry field because perfectionism can lead to massive procrastination and misguided prioritisation. As Gail Miller at ERE Recruiting Intelligence puts it, overachievers exhibit paralysis by analysis:
Overachievers have a hard time prioritising because everything is equally important. Choosing one project to focus on at the expense of another can cause tremendous turmoil. After all, there's no excuse for being lax about any task, no matter how far down on the priority list. This dilemma frequently causes overachievers to get stuck; it's can be just too difficult to make those painful choices about what not to do perfectly. This type of wheel spinning is a drain on personal productivity.
On top of all that, an overachieving perfectionist's work is never quite finished. There's always "just one more thing" to do or something you "have" to do. If that sounds familiar, you've made rules for yourself that only you care about. Chances are, nobody is asking you to do more or telling you that your work is inadequate. Change those rules you've made for yourself, and break the cycle by intentionally doing less important things imperfectly. If you're an overachiever, you'll overpromise and underdeliver, which makes you look bad even if you're working harder than ever. Remember, perfect is the enemy of good.
You Can Become a People-Pleasing Pushover
Overachievers aim to please. They want to please their boss, they want to please their coworkers, they want to please their families. And while those people may see you as reliable, some folks will take advantage of that fact.
We teach others how we want to be treated. If you teach your boss and coworkers that you're always willing to do the work that "someone's gotta' do," you'll always be the one it gets dropped on. Over time, you might turn into a pushover that doesn't want to let anyone down, so you do all the grunt work; convincing yourself that you're your boss's "go-to" guy, when you've really just put a sign on your back that says "worker bee."
Take a minute to think about what your duties really are. If you're not sure, sit down with your boss and ask them. Your boss may not even expect you to be doing half of the things you are doing. They will appreciate it getting done, sure, but they may not appreciate the fact that you are the one that's doing it all. Heck, they may not even know. Learn to say "no," ask others to help you out, and start thinking about what doing certain tasks does for you. Literally ask yourself, "Is this something I'm expected to do, and how will it benefit me if I do it?"
You Could Miss Out on Promotions
If you thought becoming a pushover at work was bad, the same type of overachieving can also keep you from getting a promotion. Seem backwards? The sad reality is, the hardest workers don't always get promoted. To get promoted, you need to show that you're valuable. That usually comes down to a couple things:
- The less your boss worries about you, the more he or she values you.
- The more value you deliver the firm beyond your assigned work, the more likely you'll get to the next level.
Number two may sound like being an overachiever, and you'd be right -- but the good kind. Bringing more value "beyond your assigned work" doesn't mean doing anything and everything that needs to be done. It means that you should be coming up with new ideas and projects, then executing them without direction. That grunt work can probably be done by anybody, so you doing it just makes you an "anybody," and "andybodies" don't get promotions. Instead, focus on creating value for your place of work, not just fulfilling on it.
On his LinkedIn blog, Slade Sundar, the COO at Forte Interactive, suggests there's a big difference between high-performers -- the people that get promoted -- and the bad kind of overachievers:
- High-Performers are Strategists: They know when to wait, when to attack, how to sacrifice, and when to change direction. They can position the company to achieve victory in multiple ways and move on non-linear paths.
- Overachievers are Brute Force: They have one mission, and that is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible within the rules provided. They focus on completing as much as possible, in a linear fashion, until there is nothing left to complete.
If you feel like you've been busting your hump with nothing to show for it, consider what kind of work you're killing yourself over. You could be giving your coworkers the extra time they need to strategize and snatch a promotion right out from under you. You could be doing ten times the work as your coworkers, but it doesn't mean much if you're just the brute force at work. Buzz, buzz, worker bee.
You Might Start to Resent Your Coworkers
Work is tough enough, and it's a lot worse when you can't stand your coworkers. But how much of that is them and how much of it is you? When you're the only one pushing yourself to the limit, you can start to resent your coworkers for not working as hard as you are, even if you're pushing yourself needlessly. Psychologist Bridget Ross explains:
Resentment that others do not work as much or as hard can easily overwhelm, infuriate, and depress an overachiever... The best overachievers also portray a sense of modesty, which causes others to interpret their success as good fortune -- and then, of course, the overachiever may laugh with an undertone of resentment that others cannot see how hard he/she works to merely appear lucky.
Not only can coworkers misinterpret your hard work, but they will probably assume that you like doing it as well: "Oh, I'll leave that for Jerry. He likes doing that stuff." That resentment only escalates if they do happen to get promoted over you too. You're doing all of this extra work that nobody else is doing, but who asked you to do it? If you think every one of your coworkers is lazy, there's a good chance you're just doing more than you need to. Let your coworkers pick up some of that slack and you might find you like them a bit more.
Failure Can Hit a Lot Harder
Failure, as necessary as it is, can be a tough pill to swallow. Even more so for an overachiever. You work yourself to the bone, so when something goes South you might start to question everything you're trying to accomplish. Juliet Vedral at The Wheelhouse, a self-admitted overachiever, explains:
Not only will a failure somehow reveal us as a fraud, we worry, but our perfect permanent record will have a nasty F on it, thereby lowering our life GPA. It doesn't matter that no one else is monitoring our permanent records. We are carefully maintaining our files in triplicate because well, that's what makes us good at overachieving.
Moving past your failures becomes more than a learning experience. It becomes the painful acceptance that you aren't as capable as you thought. Truth is, overachieving likely causes more failure in general because you spread yourself too thin and can't give your everything to tasks and projects. You don't have to settle for just being adequate, but there's nothing wrong with regular achieving either. Doing things harder, faster, and in abundance doesn't always lead to success. As a famous tortoise once showed us, "slow and steady wins the race."