How being an overachiever can lead to serious long-term misery and simple steps to become a high performer

Are you an overachiever or a high performer? Throughout my coaching experience I have coached many hardworking clients who have come to me because they are working long hours, are anxious and stressed about the future and unbalanced. In a recent article I was recently asked what the difference between an overachiever and a high performer was and to give tips on how to transition from the unhealthy role of an overachiever to the more healthy and rewarding role of a high performer.

Before I delve into some detail about the traits of an overachiever through a set of questions, it is important to sumarise the key aspects of the high performer. These people understand that the process is just as important as the result. They are the ones who nurture the people around them and build up businesses. The journey becomes the vital component in ensuring true long term success. So as you can see it is very healthy and fruitful to become a high performer, but why is it so unhealthy to be an overachiever?

Q) In your opinion what qualities or characteristics set overachievers apart from the rest?

  • They are future focused, constantly worrying about what the future holds rather than enjoying the present and the journey itself.
  • They are perfectionists, going above and beyond on each and every task they do.
  • Work long hours, doing more of the work that people would stay away from.
  • They hate failure or fear it and if they fail they view it as a slight on themselves.
  • They secretly have a lot of self doubt, thinking they are not good enough.
  • They seek love and approval through external ways. They will work harder than everyone else and do more on a task because they think it equates to love. By working hard people will love them more.

Q) Do you think that once a person starts doing well in a certain field there is a certain pressure to continue to excel? Both internally and externally?

  • Yes if you start very well and set high (unrealistic) expectations to start with you will be putting pressure on yourself and facing pressure from others to maintain or even surpass that level. Raise the bar too soon and you are expected to keep growing and pushing on, sometimes to an unrealistic level. I believe slow and steady wins the race and it is better for long term emotional health. Pick and choosing what to excel or work even harder on is key. The bosses will give more work and praise lots. You may come addicted to the validation that you associate with praise, feeling love and respect comes from working harder and getting praised. You will then search for more to do and say yes to things you should not be doing and that others don’t want to do.

Q) Tell me about that internal pressure — how can it take a toll on a person?

  • It can lead to that person becoming stressed and exhausted. All the long hours to get ahead of the game and doing work to ‘perfection’ – editing it, improving it and never quite thinking it will be good enough. It may lead to you not sleeping that much or have interrupted sleep as your brain is engaged and active.
  • The never-ending competition with yourself and others will inevitably take its strain. Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves and it will eat them up inside, whereas a high performer is more likely to embrace failure as part of the journey to ultimate goals. Rather than fear it and stay in the comfort zone they seek challenges and the growth that comes from that.

Q) Can it lead to an early burnout?

  • Yes over achievers tend to be unbalanced. They tend to sacrifice their social life for a perfectionist life duly working on everything they are given regardless of the value it adds.
  • They will feel resentment in long term and quickly burn out. If you imagine spinning lots of plates at once, eventually you will become tired and drop them.

Q) What can over achievers start to do to handle the internal pressure?

  • They can set a realistic time limit on their decisions and tasks and stick to it as best as they can. Flawlessness and perfection is impossible, in fact it’s the enemy of good. Yes its ok to do over and above for some things but not everything. Pick over and above for the high value tasks.
  • Start to do less important things imperfectly – set a certain time for those tasks and do the best job within that time slot. Then assign more time for the high priority, bigger, and most valuable tasks.
  • Think about your work duties and strengths and take a moment to ask yourself the following things:
    “Is this something I’m expected to do within my job role?”
    “Is this something I enjoy and have a strength for doing?”
    If yes…
    “How will it benefit me or the company if I do it?”
    “What is the value added of doing this job?”
  • Focus on work that adds value not putting excessive work into things anybody can do and becoming a busy bee. Anybody work does not get you the promotion.
  • Know when to wait, when to attack, how to sacrifice, and when to change direction.
  • Take a moment to meditate daily (headspace app) so you are in the present instead of angry/upset about past and being anxious or worried about the future.

Q) What can over achievers do to handle the external pressure? (from parents/ friends/ teachers or colleagues if they’re working)

  • Communicate openly and honestly to manage expectations
  • Learn to say no on occasions to work that does not add value.
  • Take time out to strategies and target the value added / most important task first.
  • Listen to your own self-talk and be more loving towards yourself. Your words and thoughts are more valuable than others.
  • Take time out for self (life balance). Make your health (physical and emotionally) the most important priority.
  • Start meditation. Try first with Headspace – a free app to get you into the present frame of mind for 10-15 minutes a day. Remember you don’t need to be great at it, do your best and know you will improve. Know that great things take time and commitment.
  • Learn to take off the mask and put the ego aside. Practise being your transparent, authentic and honest self.

Q) What should all overachievers keep in mind in order to transition into high performers (achievers)?

  • It is so important to remember that the joy is in the journey itself and not purely on the outcome. Success or failure is simply feedback and learning that will help your future growth.
  • Life is about taking risks and sometimes failing. It is how you will ultimately grow. Good and great things come outside the comfort (dying) zone and on the other end of fear are the challenges you need to grow.
  • Choose tasks that will quicken your growth, that are a struggle, yet add great value. You cannot win and be great at everything. Pick and select what you will do and what you will work over and above at.
  • You feeling of love do not come from someone else praise on the tasks you do. It comes from inside of you. Work on loving yourself regardless. Get in the habit of talking positively about yourself and your worth.
  • Differentiate between the image you project and the real person you are. As an overachiever, you are tempted by the trappings of success because they are proof that, “You won the game.” At least this one. You feeling of love do not come from someone else praise on the tasks you do. It comes from inside of you. Work on loving yourself regardless. Get in the habit of getting self recognition (talking positively about yourself and your worth) rather than external recognition
  • Start to say no to unrealistic expectation from others and most importantly from yourself.

8 top tips to settle back into UAE life after a summer vacation

Worry about your children adjusting back to UAE life after a summer overseas? Here are our top tips to help you and your child settle back into UAE life quickly…

1. Booking flights
It is never easy to say goodbye to the summer and settle back into UAE life, but alas, all good things must come to an end. When travelling back home, give you and your family a week to settle back into a routine. Spend a few days unpacking and relaxing, but quickly reestablish bedtimes and mealtimes. Remind children the joys of being back home by arranging play-dates or spending quality time with them.
If it is a long journey, it is easier to take a night flight. If you have a long day flight, carefully plan your child’s nap so it falls in the middle of the journey. This will break the journey up for both parent and child. If possible, plan to arrive back into Dubai in the daytime. This makes it easier to get over the jetlag.

2. Saying Goodbye
It is harder for adults to say goodbye than children. For children, they have a whole new adventure of the plane ride and arriving home to occupy their thoughts. Keep goodbyes cheerful. Acknowledge their feelings of sadness and together decide on actions to make the goodbye easier. Make or buy something little as a keepsake of the trip. Take pictures of happy moments and relive those memories on the plane. Talk to your child about going home excitedly. Having something to look forward to makes saying goodbye easier for both parent and adult. This will help you all settle back into UAE life.

3. The Flight.
The flight is the hardest part. Pack little activities to entertain them through the flight. After take off, spend some time recounting the trip. Initiate conversations with these questions – What did you enjoy the most? What could we have done to make it better? Did any part of the journey make you feel unhappy? How do you plan on staying in touch? Pack pencils and paper to recount the trip in pictures or words. Other essentials of a long flight home can include snack, travel games, stickers, iPad with their favorite games and iPad chargers. Introduce one activity at a time. Pack all medicines needed, bottles, and pacifiers and if possible take an extra pair of clothing.

4. Getting Unpacked
Being home has the advantage of unused, clean clothes waiting to be worn, and toys idly waiting for their keepers. Children will happily occupy themselves with these. Keep essentials like pajamas, pacifiers, bottles, or towels in one suitcase to be opened quickly upon arrival.

5. Getting over jetlag quickly
The good thing is that children bounce back quicker from jetlag than adults. If time permits, let the body clock be a rough guide for the first few days back. Spend as much time outdoors as possible and keep afternoon siestas short. Once you have unpacked and have had a day or two of rest, begin to follow your daily routine. Put children to sleep earlier, and everyday move bedtime earlier until you get to the correct bedtime. Consistency is key.

6. Settling back into UAE life
The fastest way to settle back into UAE is to simply start living. It is advisable to have all essentials of school ready before your trip so you don’t have to begin scrambling for those after a fun holiday. Unpack quickly and dive in. Iron uniforms, shop for stationary for school, and arrange a play date or two. Most importantly, talk excitedly about the new school year and how much fun is to be had. Try not to focus on the early starts and snack boxes. It is harder for adults than it is for children. Use this time to recall fun memories of the summer, keep in touch with newly met relatives and enjoy the last bits of summer before the alarm sets off the school year.

7. Remembering the summer
Sadness is reality of life and it is important to embrace the melancholy a child might feel after a trip. Listen actively to how your child is feeling, without correcting their sadness into happiness. Paraphrase their thoughts – “You feel sad because you can no longer play with your cousins”. “You wish you were not in Dubai because you are feeling hot”. Once you affirm their emotions, ask your child how they would like to move forward. “Is there anything in Dubai that brings you happiness?”, “Is there anything we can do to remember these times fondly?”, “How can you ensure you keep in touch with the friends and family you met in the summer?” Staying in touch via email or Skype, making a memory book of photos and souvenirs and fondly reminiscing about the summer makes theses memories special.

8. Looking after ourselves
As mentioned previously, saying goodbye, the flight home and settling into UAE life and routines are much harder on the parent than it is for the child. As adults we completely comprehend who and what we are leaving behind. Use similar strategies for yourself as you do for your child. Plan coffee dates with friends, talk about your trip, indulge in private grumbles about early wake ups and school runs. Most importantly, positively be open with your children about your travel blues and together you will muddle through it.

If your child is still struggling to settle back into UAE life there may be an underlying issue. Please click here if you would like a FREE child development coaching consultation.