Confessions of a High Achievers
I’ve always hesitated to speak on this topic at risk of sounding conceited or like I’m complaining about being successful, but I don’t think it’s spoken about enough for exactly this reason. I started The Scheffette as a means to chat about the difficult things and share what’s on my mind and today, this is it.
When you’ve spent most of your life being praised for your successes, your drive, and your ability to continually meet and exceed the bar set, you begin to equate your worth with these things. You begin to be motivated only by these extrinsic rewards and praise you receive from other people. As you move through life and you become more successful, it becomes tiring to continually have people expect great things from you because you’ve always been exceptional.
Instead of being rewarded for exceeding the bar, each time you meet the bar it gets raised a little higher – because after all, they (your colleagues, your employer, your friends, and your family) know you can rise to the occasion, and they tell you this. It’s always meant as a compliment and as a means of pushing you to continue being your best self; but after awhile, it can become defeating, especially when you look around and see what standards your peers are held to and what is accepted as “enough” by the metrics they’re held to.
Exceptional individuals, who have achieved a lot are expected to continue achieving throughout their life. It’s expected that you’ll always have the next adventure queued up; the next challenge; the next accolade that you’re chasing; because most of the time, you do have an adventure, challenge, or accolade queued up; but sometimes, you’d just like to breathe. To coast. To exist.
I’ve always been a highly driven individual. I’ve had big dreams – not always the confidence to pursue those dreams, but they’ve always been there. I’ve achieved great success in these first twenty-nine years of life. And I find that I’m pulled in two different directions internally. On one hand, I want to continue reaching, continue pushing, continue achieving, and continue doing all of the things that have contributed to my success. On the other, I’m tired – but I don’t know how to coast. I’ve never coasted. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to and won’t let me. It’s a constant struggle.
Sometimes I think about trying to do things to a lesser standard because I think to myself, if others can “get away with it”, why can’t I? I always come back to the same conclusion: there is something wired in me that won’t allow me to do it. I know what I’m capable of and I feel a deep sense of duty to myself to do my best, even if that exceeds what I could “get away with”. Doing things in the way that I do them feels like what makes me – me.
The practice of law is challenging. It’s part of the reason that I love what I do. There is always something new to learn and something new to strive to master. It feels good to be given files that reflect my level of competence and shows a confidence in my abilities. It feels good to be given responsibility that acknowledges that I am capable of having it. It feels good to be counted on and needed. It feels good to be building a reputation around Lethbridge and to be recognized out and about. It feels good to be settling in and living the life I wished for myself as a teen. But sometimes I wonder how sustainable this will be – and not from a burn out perspective – I’m very good at taking care of myself – but more so from a sense-of-self perspective. I wonder whether I’m going to hit a ceiling. If I’m going to “level off” or “taper off”. If I’m going to begin to disappoint people because I’ve stopped being able to meet or exceed their expectations.
When people expect big things from you, it can be paralyzing because the risk of disappointing them is so great. I’ve had people tell me that they’re excited to see what I will accomplish or how successful of a career I’ll have. I’ve been told that I’m destined to do great things. I’ve been told that no matter what I do, I’ll be great at it. And again, while it feels incredible in the moment, it contributes to this constant internal pressure that high achievers feel.
I don’t have the answers to these thoughts and feelings. I spend a lot of time working on not tying my sense of self and sense of worth to my achievements, but it’s an uphill battle.
For all the high achievers out there, I see you and I understand.
You’re not alone and you’re not weird for feeling this way. It can be disarming when the feelings start to arise and you feel like there’s something wrong with you – after all, how ridiculous does it sound to be feeling this way about being successful, something that everyone strives to be. You feel embarrassed to talk about it because it feels like a silly problem and most people don’t relate or understand. I do.