How to Tell If You’re an Insecure Overachiever

Dec 31, 2019

4 mins

How to Tell If You’re an Insecure Overachiever
Elsa Andron

Psychologue du travail et psychologue clinicienne

Are you always stressed out? Do you find you’re never satisfied with your work, despite all the positive feedback you receive? Then you’re most likely what is known as an “insecure overachiever.” Although rarely considered the type who is difficult to supervise or will easily reach burnout on a professional level, insecure overachievers don’t necessarily have a healthy relationship with their jobs. In fact, their way of functioning can provoke them into overinvesting, both physically and emotionally, in their professional life—sometimes to the great detriment of their personal life. In certain cases, this can lead to angst and eventually occupational exhaustion.

Insecure overachievers: Who are they?

An insecure overachiever is a high performer, even super-performer, who is never satisfied with their output or successes. You know the type. They are the slightly annoying coworker who was able to clinch the largest contract ever signed at your agency, but who continues to say they could have “done better” or “done more” and that it was just due to luck. Constantly looking to surpass themselves and the next challenge they meet, they are steadily consumed by the fear of “doing it wrong” and letting their colleagues down (as well as themselves), and in turn, being revealed as an “impostor.” In short, no success is big enough to soothe their anxiety, and what’s worse, the more successful they are, the more they fear failure in the future.

How do we become insecure overachievers?

The main roots of this type of behavior include low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, either innate or connected to personal, scholarly, or professional experiences. Little by little, this lack of confidence creates a web of negative thoughts and triggers overperformance behaviors. It also gives weight to insecure overachievers’ concerns that they are never good enough and that their successes are due to outside elements, such as the luck or failure of others, and are not as a result of their own skills. This is known as impostor syndrome, whereby the more professional success or promotions you receive, the more afraid you become of being revealed as a “fraud” if the slightest mistake occurs.

What are the consequences of being an insecure overachiever?

Those who carry this type of personality trait rarely describe it as unacceptable or painful until it worsens and leads, for example, to burnout.
If this is what you are experiencing, keep in mind that this never-ending drive for performance can carry a high cost, even if it has its advantages. Let’s take a closer look.

Negative consequences

  • Loss of personal and professional life: Constantly preoccupied with their on-the-job performance and the goal to “do it right,” insecure overachievers often overinvest in their professional lives to the detriment of their personal and social lives. They often work long hours and have great difficulty leaving the office environment. This could manifest itself in sending work emails at night, on the weekend, or during their vacations or their coworkers’ vacations.
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence: Caught up in a vicious circle, insecure overachievers constantly debase themselves. Indeed, their chronic dissatisfaction and the feeling they harbor of being an impostor just reinforce their low self-esteem.
  • Impact on physical and mental health: This type of behavior obviously carries physical- and mental-health risks, because it encourages greater and greater investment, and the goal of unsparingly surpassing oneself can lead to professional burnout in some cases.

Positive consequences

It is important to understand that people continue certain behaviors because the pluses they perceive (whether they are aware of it or not) as stemming from them outweigh the negatives they experience (often minimized or even denied).

  • Not letting down the workplace: The main goal of this behavior is to allow insecure overachievers to hide their anxieties about underperformance behind the smokescreen of overperformance. Their aim is to make sure their coworkers are not disappointed.
  • Important social recognition: This behavior is often socially admired since it is often mistaken for having a good work ethic and therefore perceived as a form of moral excellence. In fact, it is often rewarded by promotions or higher wages, and these rewards encourage reinforcement of this type of behavior, whether consciously or not.

Tips for dealing with insecure overachiever syndrome

  • Recognize this behavior: Being aware of the imbalance created by it and the actual consequences—both positive and negative—is the first step needed to reach better balance at work. Remember that being an insecure overachiever is not “who you are,” but rather what you have built up through your past experiences, especially at school and on the job. This is not your destiny, and you can work on making it different.
  • Achieve, yes, but at what cost? The second step is acknowledging your need always to do more or to do better and to try to reassure yourself about your skills and what you bring to your job. Some questions to ask yourself are: Why am I so demanding of myself? Why am I never really satisfied? Is it really satisfaction? What is my relationship with failure? Why does it scare me so much? These questions can be worked on with a professional, such as a psychologist.
  • Little by little, move toward achieving a balance between your professional and personal lives: Once you have understood the pitfalls of the behavior and have worked on understanding how it affects you, it’s time to take action in order to reach a healthier place. This could be in the form of concrete commitments, such as not staying at the office beyond a certain time or by turning off your phone when you leave work. But it could also be by taking the time to invest in things outside your professional life, such as building social contacts, and to make time for activities that nurture you and bring you pleasure.

Overachievers have a false impression of themselves and their actions, which makes them push themselves harder. This behavior can be the source of real psychological anguish and can lead to serious consequences. Once this behavior and the suffering it triggers is properly acknowledged, it might be beneficial to seek help in understanding this coping mechanism by working with a therapist. We do not become overachievers at random, and we can recognize it and instigate positive change no matter what age we are or where we are in our careers.

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Translated by Mary Waggoner-Moritz