The Curse of Being a High Achiever

woman at her laptop showing signs of burnoutWhere are my high achievers at? These are the folks that constantly knock their goals out of the park and make it look easy, whether they’re training for a marathon, dialing in their diet, or Marie Kondo-ing their house. They’re the ones who get the promotions, the bigger bank accounts, the smaller pant sizes…

We live in a culture that celebrates busy-ness. I’ve seen it manifest in my clients (they typically come to me in the post-crush-my-goals stage, once their nervous system is toast) but also in my personal life.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/parent-pleasing-people-pleasing-part-1-3‘>2 You might have been rewarded for straight A’s or gotten kudos after a game-winning goal. Maybe you had a parent or caregiver that was never satisfied or emotionally distant (which you mistook as unsatisfied). Or perhaps you learned that by achieving more, you managed to secure the love, safety, and acceptance of your family or caregivers.

In these situations, your self-worth becomes tied to your performance, meaning you’re only “good enough” if and when you’ve accomplished something exceptional. And even then, your inner critic probably doubts that it’s enough.

The Need to Always Do Better

What we’re really talking about here is fear. Fear that you need to continue excelling, producing, winning, and succeeding in order to not be rejected or lose the approval of others.https://www.mind-body-health.net/hpa-axis.shtml‘>4 Keep in mind this isn’t true for everyone. But for a lot of us, especially those of us with perfectionist tendencies, it’s quite accurate.

 

Pros of being a high achiever:

  • You always bring your A-game
  • You’re driven to get results
  • You’re highly motivated
  • You’re passionate about what you do
  • You’re competitive
  • You thrive on positive feedback

Cons of being a high achiever:

  • You hold yourself to perfectionist standards
  • You’re afraid of failing
  • You believe you’re only as good as your last accomplishment
  • You tend to overcomplicate things
  • You don’t take time to appreciate your successes
  • You’re prone to burnout

Burnout: How Crushing It Leads to a Crash

Research continues to prove that burnout is real – and that it’s more significant among high achievers and perfectionists.https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases:’>6

  • Feeling depleted or exhausted
  • Dissociation of negativity
  • Reduced efficacy

Not only that, evidence shows that burnout leads to dysregulation of the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — if this is you, you’ve probably already noticed the signs.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25433974/‘>8 They looked at two groups of participants: one with a formal clinical diagnosis of burnout and one with symptoms but no formal diagnosis. Researchers analyzed saliva samples of all the participants and found that both groups had significantly lower morning cortisol levels compared with a group of healthy control subjects.

Why does this matter? Because low chronically cortisol levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, fatigue, muscle weakness, digestive issues, and the inability to “crush it” even if you wanted to.

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