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How Super Achievers Can Avoid Burnout and Celebrate Success

coaching leadership Feb 11, 2022

Do you see yourself as a superachiever? 

I didn't for many, many years and I know that a number of my clients and probably the majority of women in my programmes, also don't see themselves as superachievers. And because we don't see ourselves as superachievers, we also find it quite difficult to celebrate success. This is because:

There's always something else to do. 

There's always something else to achieve. 

There's always something else that wants our attention.

Therefore we don't celebrate success, because we don't see ourselves as achieving.

Some examples from my earlier years; I was moved up a year at school and I was involved in helping other students to improve their reading and literacy. When it came to my exams, I was supporting other students in getting their exam prep done, but I didn't see that as anything extra. That was just me! That was part of what I did. That was part of who I am. 

When I joined the world of work, even as a trainee, I was helping other trainees get through the training programme, to achieve what they needed to do to pass their assessments and to continue to move on and develop in their careers. When I became an HR director, not only was I responsible for multiple projects at any one time, managing budgets of several millions of pounds, and supporting my team, other directors, managers and leaders across the organisation; I was also supporting, mentoring and coaching people from other organisations. But I still didn't see myself as a superachiever, and I still didn't see myself as having anything to celebrate. I was just moving on from one thing to the next. I was also somebody who my leaders and my managers would see as the person that would get stuff done. So regardless of how busy I was, if something important needed doing, it was given to me because they knew I would achieve it. They knew I would get it done. 

When I started my consultancy The Chrysalis Crew back in 2014, a number of clients and other business owners would come to me for support because I was the person that in their words, would get shit done. But I still didn't see myself as a superachiever. I thought this was part of who I was. I thought this was just the way that I did things and I never really felt that I was achieving. I was doing lots of stuff and I was helping lots of other people. But I didn't see myself as an achiever. I didn't see that I had anything to celebrate. I didn't see that I was successful with everything that I was doing. The feedback that I used to get (and still do get thankfully) from my keynote talks was how incredible I was, how much of an inspiration I was, how some of my talks had changed the way that people thought and changed some of their behaviours and actions that people were doing within their organisations.

But I wasn't celebrating that and I didn't see that I was successful. But as I look back on all of that now, for my entire life I have been a superachiever. Some of that has come naturally and really is just how I work and how I live and how I do things. My natural state of being is in some other people's eyes, me working at 1000 miles an hour at all time and I still sometimes joke that I only have two gears, two speeds. I have ‘not moving’ and I have ‘moving at 100 miles an hour’. I'm stationary or I'm in fifth gear! If I'm involved in anything, I want to give it 100%, I want to do it well and I want to ensure that I have delivered to the very best of my ability.

I joke to some of my friends and clients that I am a recovering control freak and perfectionist. It's become a bit of a long standing joke with lots of people and certainly within my family. I'm still in that recovery. I've recognised that my 100 miles an hour might be somebody else's 500 miles an hour. I've recognised that my natural state is all or nothing. Many of my clients are very similar. 

One of my clients is a Director of a global organisation and reports directly to the CEO. Whilst the CEO sees her as a superachiever, she doesn't feel as though she's doing anything of any real importance. She doesn't see that she's doing anything of any real value. She just sees it as ‘this is what I do’. She supports people in groups and on a one to one basis from other organisations. This is through mentoring, development groups, different group meetings in group settings and she supports all of these women from other organisations in addition to everything that she does in her day job at work. In addition to being a wife and a mother outside of work. In addition to caring for elderly relatives. In addition to keeping her house going. In addition to getting herself to the gym three times a week and still she doesn't see herself as doing anything special. She doesn't see herself as having anything to celebrate and she doesn't see herself as a superachiever. 

But the feedback from others around her is that she's absolutely a superachiever, she goes over and above in absolutely everything that she does. People wonder how she's able to do it, how she's able to keep going and see her as a role model, somebody that they want to strive to be like. She's always level headed, supportive, available, always striving to do more and she's always achieving brilliantly. And yet inside, she's struggling. She's lacking that self confidence, she's lacking that self belief, she's lacking that self awareness that says, actually I am good.

She's lacking boundaries and is pushing herself to the limit because every time anybody wants anything, she is there. She's giving every last ounce of her energy to other people around her. Other women around her see her as a role model and aspire to be like her and here she is thinking ‘why would anybody want to be like me because I'm crumbling’. 

So we've got three aspects here:

We have superachievers that don't realise that they are one and they need to recognise that they are and they need to set those boundaries so that they can protect their time and well being and start celebrating their success. 

We've got the superachievers that do realise they are superachievers, that have great boundaries in place and know when to say no. 

Then we've got the superachievers that do recognise they're superachievers, with no boundaries, who almost fear that if they set boundaries, they either wouldn't be able to keep on achieving, or people would start to think that they were then failing. 

A lot of this is the self-talk that we tell ourselves and we need to be able to get out of our own way. We need to get our heads into a position where our self-talk is one where we realise that we are worthy of saying no, that we are worthy of setting boundaries and that we are worthy of celebrating success. Because this constant cycle of moving from one thing to the next or juggling 10 different plates at a time, can feel overwhelming. Some of us are naturally superachievers and yet we prevent ourselves from believing that, because we don't celebrate the success, because we're not receiving the thanks, gratitude and praise from other people. If I had a pound for every time I had returned or dismissed feedback where somebody told me that I had done a good job, and I brushed it off like it was nothing special, I'd be living in a mansion somewhere by the beach, not having to lift a finger any day of my life.

I didn't recognise I was a superachiever for a very long time and everybody around me was telling me I was and I didn't believe it, because I thought this is just me and aren’t we all like that? Actually we weren't all like it and I knew that everybody wasn't like it, but I wasn't prepared to accept it within myself. After a lot of deep reflection I realised that I am a superachiever and in many ways I am an overachiever. I over-achieve with pretty much everything that I deliver and everything that I do. This is very familiar for a lot of my clients.

A client that I was working with last year had just left corporate and started her own business. She was exhausted by the time she came to me for one to one coaching and she was exhausted because if somebody was asking for a 40 minute talk, she felt that she had to deliver an hour in order for it to be seen as valuable. If somebody wanted a one page document, she'd make it look like an absolute work of art, because she wanted to know that she'd given it everything she possibly could.

Other clients that aren't just mentoring one person, because one person doesn't feel like enough. So they're mentoring five people or they're mentoring 10 people, and they're doing all of that in addition to their day job. They don’t recognise those boundaries.

I think a big thing that superachievers have in common is, they have this innate feeling that they want to be doing all that they can to help other people, they want to be giving and I think there is also this internal need for recognition. A lot of the superachievers and overachievers desperately want the recognition. 

They want somebody to give them a pat on the back. 

They want someone to tell them that they're worthy. 

They want someone to tell them that they are deserving.

They want someone to tell them that they're great. 

And yet in actual fact, people are telling them this all the time, but they're not receiving it and they're not willing to receive it because they don't feel it for themselves. So they're striving and pushing for something that they already have. Because they're not ready to receive it. They don't believe the praise or the recognition that they're getting, so they keep pushing and keep striving and keep achieving and keep moving on and not celebrating success. Because they’re on this quest for something that they already have and yet they don't believe it.

I talk a lot about the three things that core led women can do to create success and balance in their lives. 

●      The first thing is starting with the question who am I? Who are you? Getting really clear on who you are at the core. 

●      Secondly, setting boundaries around who you are at the core. And when I say who you are at the core, I mean your core values, your core beliefs, your core strengths, understanding who you are at the core and then setting boundaries around that. 

●      And then using those boundaries to protect your time and to protect your well being and to take time out for yourself every day. This could be 10 minutes, half an hour or three hours. It can be as much time as you want, but set non negotiable time for yourself to just allow yourself to recharge and reset.

Quite often superachievers will say they don't need that time, they're happy when they're busy and it doesn't really feel like work so they can just keep on going. But if we don't take that time, we get caught up in the cycle and we will get to a point where we crash. If we're also not allowing ourselves to celebrate success, we're not giving our brains that little happy hormone that says yes, everything's great. We should celebrate success, however small, it could be I cleared my emails today, it could be I'm dressed in my favourite outfit. We've got to be shifting our energy to allow us to celebrate more of those successes and success can be big or small. 

Perhaps as part of the who are you question, some supplementary questions to that could be, what is my definition of success? What is my definition of balance? 

Because again, if you're not clear on what success looks like and you're constantly achieving and overachieving, because you are waiting until you feel successful, then you're chasing something that really doesn't exist. You may have already achieved success, but because you haven't outlined it, because you haven't written it down, because you haven't even really thought about it. You're chasing the invisible. When you know what that definition is, then you can celebrate it. When you understand what balance means to you. You can celebrate achieving balance.

I still feel that too many of us, particularly women, are striving for work life balance and I personally believe that work life balance is a myth! For those of us that work full time, we look at it purely from a time perspective. If we look at the rest of our week, we're already out of balance in terms of the hours that we are giving to our jobs, to our careers, our businesses, to our leaders or our organisations, we're already off balance if we look at it purely from a time perspective. So what does balance mean to you? 

Is it about the quality time that you get to spend on yourself or with your family? 

Is it about being able to give more to others?

Is it about being present when you're actually with others?

What does success mean to you? 

For me, success is about stability and security, but I still want to keep growing my business.  Back in my corporate days I had no idea what success looked like and I kept thinking that success was my next promotion. When I get my promotion I'll feel successful, but every promotion that I got and every salary increase that I got, still didn't give me that feeling of success. I still didn't feel successful, even when I was earning a huge six figure salary. I had bonuses, I had the title, the status, the red soled shoes, designer handbags, designer everything, so I assumed that all of that would be the sign of success. But I didn’t feel like a success.

I then really started to understand who I was at the core and success for me is about security and stability.

Security and stability in my health, in my well being, in my finances, for my family, my business and for my clients. I know that sounds really boring and I never thought that I was somebody that security and stability would be important for, but, as I got really clear on who I was at the core, it was those two things that were my definition of success. 

It's not related to money, to wealth or to job titles, it's about a feeling of being secure and stable. So as I was progressing and developing in my career, I never really felt secure or stable because I was always after the next promotion, the next salary increase, the next project and none of that allowed me to feel secure or stable. I was never being present and never felt present in the moment. I was always on to the next thing, I was always on to the next month, next three months, next six months, the next year, the next two years. Chasing all of those things was preventing me from having that feeling of security and stability. 

If I'd have stopped and paid attention, and been aware of what my definition of success looked like, I’d have realised that I always had it! I had the stability and security of a job and a salary. My home was never going to be at risk. I had my mortgage, my cars, I  didn't have debt and everything was good. But I didn't allow myself to celebrate that because I didn't know that that was my definition of success. 

My definition of balance is about maintaining my energy. I'm balanced when my energy is balanced. If my energy is too high, or my energy is too low, I'm out of balance. It's not about how many hours I work, or how much time I spend with family or friends. It's about managing my energy. So if you are a superachiever or an overachiever, I'd invite you to look at those three things: 

●      Who are you at the core? Your core values, your core beliefs, your core strengths, your core beliefs around success and balance and achievements. 

●      Once you're clear on who you are, I'd invite you to set your boundaries and your boundaries will be much easier to set, implement and maintain when you are clear on who you are at the core. 

●      Then once you've got clarity on who you are and you've implemented your boundaries; allow yourself the time every day to stop, to breathe, to reflect and to celebrate.

Use all of these things to celebrate your success and to recognise if you are a superachiever or an overachiever. Start by understanding what success means to you and to create your balance. Don’t forget to celebrate all success no matter how small. 



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