If you're an overachiever, there's a good chance your self-esteem is low, and an even better chance your self-esteem is low and you're gay. I know of what I speak.
For many years, I believed the only thing I had going for me was what I did. I thought if I pushed myself hard enough, if I produced, produced, produced--and, not only if I produced, but if I produced perfection--people would notice me. I'd get positive attention I couldn't get any other way. I thought people may not like me because I'm gay, but if I impressed them with the things I did, by the results I achieved, they'd have to notice me, they'd have to respect me, they'd have to put my sexual orientation behind everything else. I believed what I did, not who I was, was the only way I'd win people over.
Let me tell you what a vicious cycle that was. First, no one is perfect. Even if your whole being is focused on being perfect, you will never achieve perfection. Never. Excellence? Yes. Perfection? No. You'll make yourself crazy trying to achieve something that's unachievable. And, not only that, but every time you fall short of being perfect--which is constantly--you'll hate yourself even more for not measuring up to some unrealistic perception you have of yourself, and, according to what you think, for disappointing other people. All you'll end up doing is finding another reason not to love yourself.
I was an overachiever through school, college, and every job I ever had, including the twenty-eight years I spent with a major financial institution. Don't get me wrong--if someone pays me for what I do, then I want to do the best damn job I can for them. It feels great to receive compliments and awards, to have the confidence of your boss and your boss's boss. To be given greater challenges, and special projects, and pay raises, and annual bonuses. All of that is a huge ego boost, believe me. It's easy to get caught up in that stuff, to lose yourself in it, to concentrate on your career and see yourself go places that way.
But what about you? What about all the hiding behind the career and the achievements and the pay? It catches up to you. Eventually, you realize what you're doing. Eventually, you see pushing yourself to achieve even more and even better--because you can't face the reality of who you are, because the need to run away from yourself is never-ending--won't help you deal with the pain inside, the pain of being something you hate, the pain of being something you believe everyone else hates, too. As the old saying goes, you can run, but you can't hide.
Every time I pushed myself harder in my career was a cry for help. Over a twenty-eight year period, I'd risen to star status, and I'd fallen to has-been status--numerous times over. I loved riding high as a star. Who wouldn't? I loved the recognition. I loved the love. I felt the people I worked with loved me, in the way colleagues who respect each other's work do. What I didn't realize is, they didn't love me for me, and, even worse, I didn't love me for me, either. I loved me as long as everything was going well, as long as I continued to achieve, as long as others recognized me for what I'd achieved.
It's when you're a has-been that everything begins to fall apart. As a has-been, I was forced to take a hard look at myself in a way I never did when I was a star. As a has-been, not only did I see I was falling short in my job--that some colleagues far surpassed me with their performance--but also I saw I'd let myself down. I'd let myself down by refusing to see my low self-esteem. I'd continued to rely on other people to make me feel good about myself. I hated who I was as a human being, because I was gay, but I liked who I was when I performed well, because everyone seemed to like me.
I remember talking to my boss one day as I sat at my desk. I don't recall the nature of the conversation--I believe I was at the deepest part of being a has-been again, the performance of the department I ran wasn't meeting national expectations, and I took personally that I'd let everyone down. When, all at once, I woke up. Finally. For the first time in two decades. And what I'd done over that twenty-year period became clearer to me than it ever had before: I'd allowed what I did, my constant drive to overachieve, to become me, to take control, to overshadow the truth of who I was.
In other words, for the first time in my life, I'd realized how I allowed my need to overachieve to trump my value as a human being. For years and years, I'd tried to obliterate my sexual orientation--to wipe it from my mind and the minds of everyone I worked with--by distracting with results, results, results. Unconsciously, I'd told myself, "They may hate me as a gay, but they'll ignore all that and love me in spite of it for what I do, for the recognition I bring us, for our increased profitability as a company." I believed I couldn't make them love me as a human being, but as an employee? I had control over that.
I wish I could say I retired in the summer of 2007 riding high, at the top of my game, as that proverbial star. But I can't. I was working harder than ever, expectations had blown out of proportion, and the performance of the centre I managed at the time wasn't good. But this time, the valley in my career was different. I no longer counted on the estimation of my colleagues, in relation to how well I performed, to make me feel better about myself, to make me love myself. I knew I was meant to do so much more than I had for so many years, and I left my job to embark on that road and see where it took me.
Is overachieving an issue in your life? Is it somehow connected to your sexual orientation, and how you feel about yourself?
Give up your need to overachieve. Recognize your value as a human being for who you are, not for what you do. Be satisfied with performing well, pursuing excellence, not working yourself into an early grave so you think other people will love you, so you think you'll love yourself.
Set yourself free.