High achievers, by definition, thrive on achieving. They are driven and ambitious. They are the game changers in our businesses and industries; the role models people look up to.
The downside is that high achievers are often caught up in a negative cycle of conflict. They deal with a unique set of problems and challenges that can affect all areas of their lives.
Society applauds its high achievers. We hold them up as the kind of people we should all aspire to be. The pressure this puts on high achievers is enormous. They learn to hold themselves to unbelievable standards – and often unrealistic ones.
Success can also become an addiction. Once they experience the thrill of one achievement, high achievers strive for another, and another. Whatever they accomplish, it’s never enough. It’s an exhausting and never-ending process.
I believe this situation is the result of four common long-term behaviours and habits. Through years of research and working with professionals and executives, I have discovered that these habits – or conflicts – often bring high achievers success early on in their careers, but derail their performance and happiness over time.
The four conflicts of high achievers are:
- They care too much
High achievers are great leaders at home and in the workplace. They are responsible and considerate of others. However, pleasing everybody ends up pleasing nobody. As high achievers become overwhelmed by their responsibilities and their idea of perfection, their performance drops and stress levels increase.
- They strive to be multi-talented
High achievers often learn things with ease. This enables them to climb the career ladder quickly, as corporations expect their workforces to be skilled in many areas. However, when high achievers strive to be good at everything without developing a deep understanding of what their real strengths are, they risk under-utilising their capabilities. Their performance declines as they see more of their weaknesses, which impacts their confidence.
- They do too much
Workaholism is another conflicting habit. High achievers are often rewarded for working exceptionally long hours. The problem is, it’s unsustainable. Working this way eventually wreaks havoc, both mentally and physically. When high achievers do too much and don’t give themselves time to rest and recharge, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted. This can significantly impact their health, wellbeing and productivity.
- They are single-minded
The ability to stay focused is a highly valued skill. High achievers typically put all their energy into reaching their career and business goals. However, they can let career ambition overtake many important areas in their life. Many high achievers also put their creative pursuits and passion on hold. They are concerned that these pursuits will distract them from their career path. Without tapping into their passions, life becomes dull. This can lead to feelings of resentment towards work and life.
So, why do high achievers engage in these four detrimental behaviours?
These behaviours often get high achievers ahead early in their careers. So, they keep doing them, even when they don’t make them happy. When these behaviours become a daily habit, they inevitably wear people down, no matter how successful they are.
Underpinning this pattern is the fact most high achievers don’t know how to achieve success in a healthy and optimal way. Most people are taught how to work harder and longer to achieve success, but not how to work better. This can cost high achievers the ability to appreciate life, experience joy and celebrate how far they have come.
If you are a high achiever and feeling anxious, exhausted and overly self-critical, chances are, you are experiencing one or more of the above conflicts. If so, the first step to ending the negative cycle is to be aware of it and accept it. Being a high achiever is a wonderful thing, but recognise the downsides and work towards minimising them.
Start with re-framing your thinking. Ask yourself what it truly means to be high achieving. Is it about working yourself into the ground and becoming a martyr, or is it about working efficiently and to your strengths? Is it about trying to be it all and do it all, or is it about succeeding sustainably and with joy?
Businesses, society and high achievers themselves need to reflect on the meaning of real high achievement. We all want to succeed. But we don’t have to sacrifice our happiness and wellbeing in the process. The key is to engage in more productive behaviours so we can truly be at our best and learn to enjoy the journey ahead.
Written by: Yu Dan Shi.
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