All the Things – Confessions of An Overachiever
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
This excerpt from my book, Own Your Own Shift has resonated with a number of my successful, driven clients. Ironically, our desire to accomplish our goals, gain the approval of our community, and grow our careers and businesses can actually create the opposite effect we desire.
To really grow personal influence and impact we must understand how to slow down before we can speed up.
For decades I have often been complimented for being “driven”. Many people asked me how I manage to accomplish so much. There was a time I loved hearing that, and it made me proud. Today I recognize that being driven can be as much of an obstacle as it is a benefit. It certainly brought me a lot of money, recognition and approval, but it also exhausted me, damaged my health, and robbed me of my joy just as often.
The Birth of A Shadow
For each persona we embody, there is a counterpart, called the shadow self. If the counterpart is suppressed or repressed, areas of our life will have imbalances. The shadow self of my Driven persona is the Carefree Child. I remember the exact moment, when I was four years old, that I decided to be productive and busy.
It was a bright, summer morning, and my father was busy doing some work around the house. He was very intent on his work, going in and out, with tools in hand. I have no idea what particular project had his focus, but I remember how attracted I was to his energy. I began following his every step. I was curious and playful – bouncing along, asking him what he was doing.
He did not share my enthusiasm. He was intent on fixing something, and his four-year-old daughter was dogging his every move. At one point he stopped in frustration, and turned sharply, so I almost ran into him. He said loudly, “Are you bored? You have lots of toys. You need to go find something else to do and stop following me! There is never an excuse to be bored.”
In actuality, I hadn’t been bored at all. But staring at my father, who was obviously very irritated with me, I made a decision that moment to push aside that wonder and curiosity, following Daddy around. Never be bored, he had said. And I never was again. I was productive. I was useful. That decision was mine. My father never intended for me to divorce a part of me that morning. Yet I did. The Carefree Child was suppressed.
What did that sweet little girl want? Just to observe and be in her father’s presence. But she was in the way, taking up too much space. She was an irritant and a bother, worthy only of rejection. Or, more precisely, that’s what she heard. From then on, I slammed a lid on her, closed her away and only let her come out to play on rare occasions. She was blocking me from my father’s love and approval, after all.
Balance Provides Ease
Of course, when we divorce from a part of us, we create an imbalance. When we choose to judge part of ourselves as bad or wrong, we demonize our wholeness. Referred to as a “shadow self” in some healing practices, this exiled piece of us begins to act out in order to regain its rightful place. This shows up in being triggered by situations, or, as with me, imbalanced aspects of our lives.
That playful, curious little girl has always deserved to be a full part of me. I asked her what she wants now – what would let her feel seen. I asked how could I reassure her that she matters to me. Her answer was poignant and precious:
“Stacey – I want to come out and play. I don’t want to be so serious and goal-oriented. Can we just chase some fireflies, watch the rain, and jump in a puddle? Can we lie down on the ground and look up at the trees, listening to the birds? Can we climb that hill, just because it’s there?”
Of course, you can honey. I’ll join you. How could anyone not feel an overflowing of love for you?
And I set aside my list, turned off my notifications, put my phone on silent. And we went for a walk in the woods.
I continue to learn the many origins of my ideas about how good it is to be busy, productive and useful. There are many more besides that pivotal moment with my father – from teachers to bosses, friends, peers, and clients.
Our culture is quite addicted to the idea of productivity’s primary importance. When I accomplish something, I get that endorphin hit of approval. When that happens, my little girl can shrink a bit back into her shadowy corner. I forget she is there. I forget that I promised she would matter to me. Trust is broken.
I am on a journey of unlearning the lessons that eroded my wholeness and my balance. The four-year-old Stacey, full of playful curiosity, is not the only piece of me I shut off. Many parts of me are waiting for me to go on a search and rescue mission, and bring them back to myself.
It’s a tricky business, because I can just as easily shut off productive, useful Stacey, as playful Stacey. Neither one is bad or wrong. Instead, my shift is about integrating the two for greater balance. There is always room for more of me.
Because I am a recovering overachiever, I am well qualified to address the innate desire to not stop – and not rest – until perfection has been achieved.
After all, isn’t that the whole point?
No. It is not.
The point is to be in appreciation for the wonder of it all. The minute I slip into judgment and criticism of any part of me, I am severing myself from something I need in order to evolve. That is an idea my over-achiever self struggles with, but I let her struggle, and love her through it. I celebrate that she got me this far, and I do the same with every other aspect of myself I am getting to meet along the way.