Ten signs you might be an overachiever

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In today’s post, we will look at the building blocks that make up an “overachiever”—what it looks like, where it comes from, and how these selfsame features can both help and hurt us.

What makes up an overachiever? It depends on who you ask, of course. What comes to mind for me is an overdeveloped work ethic, several helpings of perfectionism, maybe some poor work/life balance, and a tendency to locate worth in what one does, not who one is.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common features.

1.) Self-neglect. An overachiever will routinely ignore personal needs and relationships in order to get the job done. This can range from missed bathroom breaks and non-existent lunch breaks to ruined marriages or a ton of PTO at work that’s never used.

2.) Distortion. Overachievers routinely have distorted expectations of themselves and others. They tend to dismiss their achievements and overlook or minimize their day-to-day work. An overachiever will judge a “healthy” schedule as unambitious or lazy.

3.) Criticism. High standards are the personal calling card of the overachiever—but these standards are often harshly applied, both to self and others. This can cause lots of tension in close relationships.

4.) Push, push, push. By definition, an overachiever is never satisfied with what they’ve done. They are always trying to beat their latest record or accomplishment. Yet, praise and enjoyment of past achievements is always fleeting, and overachievers are constantly trying to justify, improve, and develop themselves with the next big project.

5.) Time urgency. Overachievers are always racing the clock. Small tasks take on big urgency, as overachievers are constantly racing against themselves to get the most done in the least amount of time possible.

6.) Product over process. Typically, overachievers are focused on outcomes rather than process. They don’t get doing something just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. But, they might add “take a break” to their twenty item to-do list, just to make sure it gets done of course.

7.) Roots. Overachievers typically come from a long line of other overachievers. Occasionally these traits emerge as an adaptation to growing up in an out-of-control household. More often, though, overachievers were shaped and molded by parents and upbringings that put a premium on accomplishment over enjoyment.

8.) Guilt. Many overachievers report feeling guilty, empty, or directionless if they are not working on something. If you try and force an hour or day “off” an overachiever will quickly fill it with a series of useful tasks or chores.

9.) Failure phobic. Most overachievers are petrified of failure. Failure is inefficient, displeasing to self and others, and it gives any overachiever’s inner critic a boatload of ammo against them. This often results in overachievers developing a few highly-refined skills but avoiding new and interesting things out of fear that they won’t be any good or may make mistakes while learning.

10.) Eager to please. Since most overachievers come from a long line of other highly-achieved types, it’s no surprise that overachievers are also very eager to please. They learn early on that achievement is a way to secure love and approval from important others. The trouble is that these habits start early, and overachievers never have the chance to see via trial and error that they have value and worth independent of their accomplishments.

But, don’t write these features off altogether. It’s clear that many of the traits that make up overachievement are very desirable in small doses.

It’s all about dose

As with all things in life, it really is a question of dose and balance. And, the spirit with which work is undertaken makes a tremendous difference. After all, just because you’ve achieved many things in life does not necessarily mean you are an overachiever. This is the difference between high achievement and overachievement.

Consider the difference:

High achievement. There can be a lot of virtue in losing oneself in one’s work, what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as “flow” and others call being “in the zone.” This is the quiet, clean space where creations knit themselves together easefully under a watchful eye. When you feel possessed of a message or talent that simply needs you to permit its expression—there’s not a painful wrestling or grappling with it—just a gentle overseeing as things unfold. There are rewards inherent in the doing of the work—the product is just “icing.”

Overachievement. Contrast that with the high-stakes mindset of the overachiever—an entirely different way of getting lost in a project. Disappearing down rabbitholes of endless revisions and editing, persistent rumination about how the work will be received—will it be good enough?—procrastination, worry, and self-criticism. The process is arduous and painful. In this frame of mind, you may even feel that your excellence, worth, or quality of output is tied to this painful process—that you must necessarily suffer or struggle in order to create the wonderful things that bring you praise.

Pretty different, aren’t they?

We can’t always create for ourselves—others’ opinions and judgments will inevitably enter into some projects—at work, at home, even in our leisure. But, it is a very different feeling to create for oneself, from a curious, open and ordinary place, rather than against the sharp blade that drives overachievement.

Good news!!

The good news is that you will find that your motivation shifts—shaped sometimes by an internal drive or vision and other times by the approval and regard of others. Both of these ways of working can be appropriate— sometimes the details really do need to be reviewed a third time or fourth time. It’s just a question of applying these stances flexibly and at appropriate times.

Again—it’s about dose: the difference between overachievement and high achievement.

Because if something matters enough to you—a person, a project, a job—chances are you’re going to hate it sometimes. It may be a struggle. Things will not simply fall into place.

And that’s okay—in small doses.

Just keep an eye out for those signs I mentioned earlier—the ones that suggest you’ve taken up residence in the land of overachievement.


  1. I think I might be an overachiever. This article helps me to understand why things sometimes do happen to me. Thank you!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, John! There are a lot of us overachievers out there.

  2. I was diagnosed as an overachiever when I was depressed . Two years latter I had a panic attack and when I read this again, is more profound for me.

    • Hi, Nadja– I’m glad you found this post helpful to you. Overachievement is one creative way we can cope with the stress of life, but it can be exhausting to do all the time! Best wishes to you in your healing journey.

  3. This is very helpful. I currently have over 120 hrs of PTO I have not used. I admit I am very tough on myself and I push myself hard. I have a physical disability, short and no college degree but at least the results are positive. I earn 6 figures, multiple properties and a lot of money saved.

  4. I’m definitely an overachiever and beat my myself up horribly if someone criticizes my work. My thinking is that I put everything I had into it and it still wasn’t good enough. Although I do want feedback and take it to heart. I lose sleep over what I did wrong and how everything I do is probably not as good as I think it is. This sometimes throws me into feelings of depression. I am aware of all of it logically, so really hard when I do get into these moments.

  5. It is nice to recognize… so it takes off the edge a little more…


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