Friday, December 28, 2012

How To Be an Overachiever

‘Tis the season for making lists….

Overachievers make lists. And they do what the lists tell them to do.

When Penelope Trunk and the Thought Matters blog wanted to lay out road maps to overachievement they wrote lists. Trunk found 15 qualities that will make you an overachiever. TM listed 20.

Much of the advice is sound and helpful. Some of it I can live without. Follow most of it and you too will overachieve.

I am not going to write yet another list. I prefer to ferret out the principles behind the list.

First principle: overachievement comes from without, not within.

Overachievers do not trust their whims; they do not follow their bliss; they do not dig deep inside to discover their true feelings.

They know that it’s not how badly they want it, but how hard they will work to get it.

Rather than trust the vagaries of their mental states they make and follow lists. If the list says it has to be done it has to be done. If you do not feel like doing it and the list says you must do it, you must do it.

When you follow lists you are being organized and disciplined. You are also exercising self-control, even when no one is watching.

Second principle: overachievers take advice.

Trunk notes that overachievers very often have mentors and coaches. They seek out advice and guidance from those who are wiser and more objective.

They see no virtue in doing it their own way or in making their own mistakes. Overachievers hate making mistakes; they especially hate making unnecessary mistakes.

When they receive advice, they follow it.

Third principle: overachievers focus relentlessly on the task at hand.

Trunk points out: overachievers are not well-rounded. They don’t try to become professional dilettantes.

An overachiever is not a “jack of all trades, master of none.” He masters one trade and works to excel at it. He ignores the others.

Being great at one thing is far better than being mediocre at many things.

If you are focused on one thing you will be spending more time working at it. This will greatly increase the probability that you will excel.  

Fourth principle: overachievers persevere.

An overachiever keeps at it until he gets it right. He does not let himself be distracted by bodily demands or even by insistent text messages.

You will recall that the Tiger Mom made her daughter sit at the piano and work at a difficult composition until she got it right.

You will also recall that all sensible people were horrified at the vision of a poor child who was not allowed to leave the piano, even to perform a normal biological function.

It turns out, this is the way you learn perseverance. We should be more concerned with the children who are not being taught to persevere than with the children who are being trained to be overachievers.

Fifth principle: overachievers self-deprecate.

Overachievers do not burden their colleagues with empty assertions of self-esteem.

There is no virtue in feeling good about yourself when you have done a half-assed job.

Overachievers know the difference between success and failure. They know when they are being patronized.

If they fail, they shoulder the blame and resolve to do better the next time. If they succeed, they are humble and modest about their success.

Overachievers do not puff up their self-esteem when they fail and do not brag about their success.  

When you brag you are putting everyone else down.

The people you are putting down today will sabotage you tomorrow.

Besides, if you become too full of yourself you are more likely to slack off on the next job.

In moderation, confidence is a good thing. In excess, it will make you lazy and unfocused.

Sixth principle: overachievers are never satisfied with doing their best. They strive to be the best.

Overachievers never excuse themselves by saying that they have done their best.

"I did my best" … is a rationalization for failure.

It’s a cheap feel-good excuse.

If you want to overachieve or even to perform at your peak you need to stop making excuses. Instead, make it your business to do your job better than anyone has ever done it before. 


Anonymous said...

You realize they are talking about people in useless over-leveraged crap like entertainment, finance and internet start-ups, yeah?

It's achiever inflation. We used to have half-assers, achievers and overachievers.

Half-assers have now subsumed the achievers; if you are not an overachiever, you are a half-asser.

What was once simply an achiever is now so rare, we call them overachievers.

Heck, even our generals and our astronauts are mostly characterless imbeciles. Our Presidents and leaders? BWHAHAHAHA!

If you focus on excellence in that one thing, when it goes away, so will you and your achivements. Overachievers are by definition fragile.

cf. "Penelope Trunk". She has made and lost and made again more money than I will ever see. I don't wanna be her. I don't wanna be like her and neither does she.

"If you can do something even half-assed, you are a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind."
--Kurt Vonnegut.

--Gray, Coffee Achiever.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Not exactly...

Of course, the term "overachiever" has been overused, but still if we are talking about people who succeed in whatever endeavors they undertake, be it finance, law, high-tech or even writing, I think it's useful.

In a world where too many people believe that the meaning of life is vacation, I though it useful to point out what goes in to developing a work ethic.

The lists have both good and bad-- I cherrypicked them for the best advice.

I don't really follow PT-- so I don't know how many fortunes she has made or lost... At the least she had the good sense to point out that overachievers, or people who want to accomplish things... tend to use coaches. She did not say that they tend to go to therapy-- for that she gets a vote from me.

I didn't repeat it, but she mentioned a point that I have often made on this blog-- young women do best with their lives when they marry and have children young.

PT notes sagely that a woman who has her children young will be more available to assume executive responsibilities in her forties because her children will be mostly grown up. A woman who starts having children in her late thirties will be less available for career advancement.

In that one thought PT revealed the lame logic behind the feminist call to defer marriage and childbearing. For that I am grateful to her.