Updated: May 31, 2019
I spent many years in denial. I suppose you could consider me an overachiever but I didn't like that term, nor would I think of myself in that way. To me "overachiever" had a negative undertone suggesting you were overly competitive or trying to be better than others by showing off how many talents you had and overtly proving how much you could take on. While working at a consulting firm years ago I was working on a project with a small team of fellow employees, when one of the ladies, in response to a question by another team member said, "I'm not sure, go ask the overachiever" and casually nudged her thumb in my direction. I was embarrassed by the tease and sheepishly diverted it with an attempt at humble humor, something like "no overachieving here, just doing my part for the team so we can finish up and go home!" She actually meant it as a compliment but I was immediately sensitive to the idea that maybe she thought I was trying to outdo her. I was horrified at the thought that I had done something to make her feel like she wasn't doing enough (note to self: start blog for over-thinkers anonymous!). This is classic woman brain and a paradox in the professional world. We have talents and want nothing more than to use them, but then when we use them and people notice we suddenly become self conscious about it.
Back in 2012 I joined a women's professional development association and was suddenly swimming in a pool of overachievers. It was nothing less than awesome and you could feel the energy of women supporting other women who understood each other. There was no shyness in that room - only excitement for pulling all talents together to create something bigger than ourselves. I began to feel differently about myself and the variety of skills I had. In this environment I could put many of them to use where they were appreciated and even promoted. There was no need to prove anything, just a safe environment where you could be you. They even had workshops that encouraged you to toot your own horn and brand your abilities because people want what you've got so shine that light and lead the way! It was such an empowering feeling and it opened up my world so I feel compelled to share this message with you.
To the mother, wife, family organizer, house manager, chef, maid, homework buddy, purchasing agent, taxi driver, therapist, party planner, travel agent, community partner, and social diva: You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else and feeling like you have to prove yourself. You already possess a variety of life skills that you exercise on a daily basis at some point in your life. Sure looks like overachieving to me, but I'm guessing you don't think that's a bad thing. Of course not! You proudly stand as a strong foundation of your family and no one would dare question that. You have a job also? Maybe two? A full-time career? A business???!!! Wait, you have a creative talent? AND you manage to squeeze in some time for yourself so you can actually sustain all of this crazy activity? Seriously now. You belong to groups outside of your family and friends and are involved in those as well? Do you sleep? Do you eat?
Feels good right? Women are a natural multi-taskers because that's what we have needed to be as the bedrock that supports everyone else. We can organize communities because we do it in our own homes every day. We can give direction, delegate tasks and rally the troops to reach a common goal because in the end you know every one will be happy with the result and that fulfills you. We excel at time management because it's our job to make sure bills get paid, the kids aren't tardy and we have just enough time to get to work on time.
Well, I see you.
In our modern age we have more to do than ever and we don't always have a significant other to help carry the load or families close by to pitch in. Life can get very stressful and overwhelming and the fact remains that we often buckle under the pressures of making it all work. We take on the world every day and leave nothing for ourselves and we get worn down. If you have a mindset that you have to have to prove yourself to anyone, that only adds to already stressful situation. We get sick, depressed and start avoiding life and basically stop living it. We no longer enjoy things and have no motivation to get anything done and sometimes we just don't even care. I see you. I've been there.
Do you ever feel like you just don't know what the next step is or how to get out of a rut? Maybe you are not sure how to do all of the things you want to do with the time you have? Here are some ideas that may help.
Find some balance Much has been said about work-life balance but not all ways work for all people. You've got to consider your unique set of circumstances and find small ways to get a little "you" time. If you are overworked and overwhelmed you may be experiencing a time management issue. What's needed is prioritization of your schedule and tasks. Try this exercise and you will have a better handle on what needs to be done immediately, what can be scheduled at a later date, what can be handed off to someone else and, in some cases, what you can actually say NO to from the get go. Yes, that's right - you can actually say NO. If you don't know how to do that, email me right now and we'll set up time to chat and I'll teach you how. It's liberating! You don't have to do everything that everyone else wants you to do and if you learn how to say no once and a while you'll have more time to do the things you want to do.
I have a friend who started to get a call on Fridays from her brother asking her if she would go over to their aging parents house on Saturday to help do this or that. This was something he would do for his parents a few times a month and would always call her to complain about it afterwords. During the Friday call he would explain that he just couldn't get to it and was hoping she would do him a favor and take care of things. At first the calls were once and a while, but then they increased in frequency. She would always say yes, but would be irritated because he would make this call often with a different excuse. Being the faithful daughter and loyal sister, she did what he asked. Now, my friend had a standing dinner date with her parents every Wednesday evening that included her husband and kids, something she very much enjoyed, and would often invite her brother to join in. He would always politely decline saying he'd see them on the weekend when he'd go help them do odds and ends. She was starting to feel taken advantage of and vented to me one day at lunch. One of her frustrations was that she had been trying to take a new art class on Saturdays because her kids were now older and she could find some time to explore her love for art. Because she was helping her brother out more and more those art classes were getting further and further away and she began to accept that her Saturday schedule was going to continue to revolve around taking care of things for her parents. I knew that she loved them and didn't really mind, but I could see the disappointment in her face. I asked her if she ever consider saying "no" to her brother. She giggled at the idea saying he would have a temper tantrum if she did. My reply was "Ok, so?". I guess she thought about it because a few weeks later she called me to tell me that she did say no the next time he called and explained to him that she was starting a new art class and had already paid up front so there was no getting out of it. He seemed put out at first but by the end of the call he told her he was glad she was doing something for herself. He dutifully went over to his parents and never asked her again.
Do you ever make time for yourself? If someone is taking advantage of you strategically placed "no" could help you do just that. I encourage you to schedule your newly found slice of serenity into your calendar and staunchly defend that just as you would any other professional appointment or special event with your family. Don't put yourself last! Let others work around your schedule for a change. I'm not talking about radical change across the board - I'm talking 1 or 2 hours a week for your sanity. A little goes a long way. If anyone balks at it, don't worry, they'll get used to it and they will adjust accordingly.
Get OrganizedNothing nickel and dimes your time like disorganization. Whole hours can go missing right along with your sanity. Put a system in place to help you keep things in order. Create a calendar for chores and errands, make lists for everything, get file folders for paperwork and clean your closets. I'm not saying you have to have a spotless house, but being able to locate your stuff when you need it helps you stay on track and on time. Even if you have a lot of stuff there are ways to keep it under control. Pinterest is an amazing resource for this and is something the whole family can get involved in. Good quality time I say!
I want to go into space and explore strange new worlds, but the reality is that my entire life would have to change and I'm probably too old to go to astronaut school. This is not a practical goal for me so I'll continue to binge watch all things Star Trek and be perfectly happy from the comfort of my couch. My point is that you CAN do it all, but there are limits to space and time - at least in this reality. You have to know yourself and what you are capable of and work from there. Only you can make things happen but you have to be practical. Do you have the right skills and resources? If not can you get them? Is the timing right? Will your lifestyle work for what you are planning? Be audacious, shoot for the moon, JUST DO IT - but be realistic.
Be a Rockstar not a Groupie
At this stage of my life I fully embrace my overachieving status and plan on doing more of it. I no longer care what others think of me because there is simply no room for that in my life. I'm not arrogant or condescending in my actions, I simply do what I do. If someone is going to bad mouth me because of their own insecurities that is their choice and their responsibility. My responsibility to myself is to show up every day for the win. And by winning I mean living the heck out of each day and enjoying every moment fully whether it's work or play. I may not get everything done, but I don't beat myself up for it. I simply move it to the next days list and start fresh after a good nights sleep. I only hope I have enough life to fit in all my grand plans! To be a successful overachiever you must be a master at getting stuff done. It's the difference between talking your talk or walking your walk. If you are sitting around making plans and talking about all the great things you are going to do but never actually do them, well, these are just words coming out of your mouth. If this becomes habit you can easily fall into a dark hole that can be very hard to climb out of. By leaving space for yourself and taking action on your plans you put in motion a powerful manifestation of the person you are.......a rockstar.
Do what you do because you want to, not because you have anything to prove. Take on whatever you can realistically handle and be really good at that and proudly stand in that space. You don't need anyone's permission and you certainly don't need anyone's approval. Be a bonafide card carrying member of Overachievers Anonymous and wear that badge with pride. Continue on your pursuit of success on your terms and go absolutely beyond what is expected of you. No one will find more joy in your success than you and that gives joy to your journey that makes life full.