Please note this was written and first posted in 2014. Enjoy. Rachel
Over achiever (n.) ‘an individual whom performs better or achieves more success than expected’
Over achiever (n.) “an individual whom is petrified of failure, who stakes their identity on their professional performance, who cancels commitments to focus on occupational accomplishment, who neglects the present to focus on the future, who lives with constant anxiety and who hustles for worthiness.”
My definition (and a honest description of a former me)
“How did you manage to do it all?” Is a question I am often asked. This time last year I was studying a full time degree, setting up my own business, working a second job as a lecturer, prepping for a physique contest and bringing my son up single handily. I couldn’t recall the last night I had slept for more than four hours, I would either get up at 4a.m. to answer emails, do the washing or finish marking papers. Nor could I recall the last time I had enjoyed time with my family or friends, my business always got in the way (note: I adore my job and always have).
I was working myself to the point of exhaustion yet never felt deserving enough to relax. I was surrounded by clients and colleagues all the time yet felt bitterly isolated. I was taking my son to rugby, football and swimming, making cakes for his bake sale and any free time taking him to special places yet I felt like I was disconnected from him.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
I was so busy being “productive, striving for perfection and occupational success”, in other words I was so busy keeping busy, that I had isolated myself completely and was living for the future.
My “moment of reckoning” occurred last year in the most uncomfortable hour of my life. I was in my first ever hot yoga class. Yes, I was hot and sweaty and the movements were difficult, but it was none of that that made me uncomfortable. It was the silence. It was the lack of productivity. This was the first time in years I had stepped off the hamster wheel of achievement and all of a sudden the truth of my life caught up with me.
Since when had writing a client’s diet plan been more important than reading my son a bedtime story? Since when had researching an essay been a priority over celebrating my best friend’s birthday with her? Since when had responding to emails been more crucial than getting adequate sleep? … NEVER. I had royally f**ked up (I am not usually one to use profanities however there is simply not a more accurate word in this instant.)
I was addict, and “busy” had become my drug.
I walked out that yoga class and re-evaluated by life.
Every job/commitment/competition I had agreed to was my choice and my responsibility. I had chosen the busy life, the hustle. But why?
Easy answer? Awkward answer?…Numbing. Busy numbs the reality of any unpleasant experiences or feelings. Busy was almost the easy option for me.
Having been an A* student throughout my school life and excelling in sports too I didn’t like to fail which meant keeping my foot on the exhaust, always. Falling pregnant at 17 was almost unheard of in my village and I felt the need to prove I was not a stereotypical “single teenage mum”, so down went my foot even harder on the exhaust pedal. This combined with a family illness tearing us apart and eventually walking away from a destructive relationship my exhaust pedal was at maximum pressure, and I had forgotten how to use the breaks.
But this “moment” had broken my exhaust and I had broken down (hypothetically and possibly emotionally too.)
So slowly, but surely I “un-numbed”, I was honest with myself and stopped hiding behind my “to-do” list. I tackled and openly discussed those unpleasant, shameful experiences so I no longer had to run from them.
This left me able to focus clearly on the present and be grateful for what I have.
My top priority, always. My son: I need to keep him alive, he needs to be healthy, he needs to be happy and he needs to feel deeply loved and appreciated. For this to happen I needed to lead my example. I needed to keep myself alive, be healthy, be happy and feel able to be deeply loved and appreciated.
So I have made small changes to stop the false sense of accomplishment that busy provides and instead be committed to doing more of the right things;
Spending quality time with the important people in my life and truly valuing and appreciating them and enjoying time with them on a regular basis. I speak to my sister and my dad daily, I see my mum at least once a week and always make sure I make time to see friends on their birthdays.
I used to take on everything, thinking that if I passed on opportunities I would be the one losing out. So I would be doing lots of things, but probably none to my absolute best ability. I was totally wrong, by just taking on X amount clients and X hours corporate work may mean people have to pop onto a waiting list however it means I am back in love with my work even more than before, and if it fulfils me then I am so much better at it.
They say grubby floors and a full washing bin are the signs of happy kids, well it is true. I no longer obsess that I haven’t scrubbed the kitchen floor every day, I would rather be playing power rangers than getting out the bleach. I realise I can’t do everything perfectly all the time and I am ok with that.
I wanted to work for myself because I am so passionate about what I do, but self employment means the potential to work 24/7. I now take every Sunday and alternate Saturdays completely off work. I have a laptop ban during this time and make sure I collect my little man from school every Tuesday, we go swimming and to the park and have a movie night on a Wednesday. Nothing gets in the way of these moments.
I find with modern technology we all expect instant response from emails, by setting up a instant response message any enquirers know their email has been received, acknowledged and is appreciated and they will be contacted within five days with an in depth reply.
I love the gym and everything about training and nutrition, but when your colleagues and friends and social events revolve around fitness I found it was helpful to find something else to enjoy. Growing up I loved being creative and have realised the importance of nurturing that side of me. I love working with different woods, paints and metals to restore old furniture.
I also think it is vital to help those less fortunate and as a hobby continue to fund raise to support this.
I no longer feel the need to be perfect, in fact I feel ok to be flawed. My value of “success” has changed, I still want to be a great health and fitness professional but my other goals are now more internal, to be the best version of myself, to practise empathy and compassion and to continue to connect with people. To be accustomed to both winning and losing and to learn from the failings.
Without doubt this has been monumental in me being more productive work wise in less hours as well as improving strength and mood. Ensuring I get at least seven hours by going to bed earlier has become a habit now.
As much as being a strong, independent female appears wonderful, I actually gained more strength asking for some help. Both my mum and dad are great if I want some help with childcare and I am not afraid to ask a more experienced individual in business their opinion if I want to talk about expansion or similar.
Ok, this is a recent one, currently attempting to watch a box set of Sherlock. I have so far managed to watch two episodes, very much a work in progress.
By slowing down I have found contentment in the now.
I am not quite “recovered”, I still get moments of anxiety and inadequacy and I start to hit the exhaust again, but those moments are rare and I think that is simply part of being human.
Live life fully.