Over-achiever

What’s so bad about doing a good job on something, and then looking for approval? It seems childish, but we parents encourage our children to behave that way on purpose. All of a sudden, when you hit a certain age, it’s not okay anymore. “Look what I did!” is totally rude and out of fashion. Should we change the way we raise our children, or just teach them not to act that way around anyone except Mom and Dad, or to knock it off at a certain age? What? I’m confused!

There are people in my church who knew me in grade school, and frankly, I can barely look them in the eyes I’m so embarrassed. My life was all about me back then. I did my absolute best all the time because it’s what my parents and teachers wanted. They were pleased, and they had ways of showing their approval. Should I have tried to please my fickle peers instead? Impossible! Then why am I so embarrassed? People hated me, but should I have done less than my best? Even now, my efforts at making friends and being nice to people are looked at askance because some believe that I’m just a glutton for approval. At least, that’s how I interpret their reactions.

The other day, I asked a lady in the church where to find such-and-such cleaner. I wanted to find out ahead of time because I was going to be cleaning the church by myself for the first time. I mentioned this fact, so she would know why I was asking, but clearly, I should have merely asked the question and kept my reasons to myself. Instead of telling me where I could find the cleaner, she said, “Good for you.” Am I reading too much into her reaction? Or was I subconsciously looking for her approval? I want to be who God wants me to be, and if I’m too arrogant or approval-seeking, I want to change those things about myself. But how then should I behave? I want others to feel comfortable around me and vice versa. I am haunted by my past as an over-achiever.

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14 responses to “Over-achiever

  1. Overachieve, verb: To perform better or achieve more success than expected.

    I don’t think this is a bad thing in and of itself. (Or I certainly hope not, since I’ve got overachieving tendencies of my own.) Come to think of it, going the extra mile is a Scriptural command.

    But then, Scripture also commands us not to let the left hand know what the right is doing, save our flamboyant prayers for the closet, and keep our appearance up while fasting. In other words, we’re not supposed to overachieve for the purpose of showing off.

    It’s hard, I know. If/when I’ve managed to do better than everyone else, I want them to know about it. Bad news: That’s pride. I have to keep my motivations in check — to do my best when nobody’s watching, and to show some humility in front of an audience; to refrain from saying, “Hey, look what I can do!” in favor of suggesting, “Hey, here’s one thing everyone can do so we can all be better together.”

    The *actions* of an overachiever needn’t necessarily change. It’s predominantly about the *attitude*. If personal satisfaction and God’s approval aren’t enough, then the [my] attitude needs work.

    • Is it a sign of an attitude problem that I felt the need to go back, sign in as Deshipley, and return to type up this little addendum stating authorship of the comment above?… Arrogance or compulsion; one of those.

    • You’re absolutely right. I just wonder how I’m supposed to get that across to my son and niece before they grow up and learn it the hard way because everyone hates them. It’s so hard to teach them not to brag when I am constantly bragging on them to grandparents, my husband, my sisters, etc. I want them to feel good about their accomplishments, but I don’t want them to feel like they are better than others. I just don’t know where to draw the line.
      The line still seems a little fuzzy in my own life, even though I usually just try to keep quiet about my own accomplishments (except to my husband, who always roots for me). I wonder if I’ll ever live down my past? I love my church and wouldn’t dream of changing just to save my pride!
      Thanks for your well-thought-out response. I always appreciate what you have to say, even if you are incognito once in a while! (Your email came through my stats though, so I could still tell it was you!)

  2. I think it boils down to motivation. Why are my kids trying to win, get a leg up, stand out, or succeed? I have a child that loves to hold his winnings over his siblings, winning is power to him and so I have to temper that while encouraging his drive. They are to love one another.

    I have another child that really just desires to be noticed and appreciated. She wants to hear she has done well because she puts so much effort into things.

    My middle child just needs attention in general. If he does something well, we tend to make a big deal out of it because he is quiet and can often be ‘forgotten’. We need to encourage this child every chance we get.

    • I believe you are right about motivation. I was exactly like one of your children; I was driven by the desire to be appreciated, or maybe just approved of. And that was fine as a child. I don’t think I was motivated by pride (unless my true motivations were hidden from me). But as I became and adult and entered college and the work force, people hated me for my desire to please. I don’t think I was sinning, but I had to withdraw myself a little to keep from making others feel as though I was trying to outshine them. Here’s a funny story: when I started working at Wal-Mart, this homeschooled grammar-smart girl (me), had to learn to speak like everyone else to keep from sounding like I thought I was better than everyone else. Now I have trouble putting my words into proper language. I can do it on paper; not so much on the fly. Anyway, I finally decided that other people’s feelings were more important than most things, and although I never allowed my grades to suffer or my work ethic to drop, I worked hard to change alot of things about the way I come across to others.

      • And yet . . .
        When I have tried to dumb myself down, my friend (true friend) told me, “We can ALWAYS tell when you are doing that, and it’s, like, ‘Here comes the high and holy one, in for a landing!'”
        When she told me that, I felt so hopeless. They will hate me if I do right or if I do wrong.
        So I decided to do right and be so kind and helpful to them that they got used to me.
        I mean, at our house, we correct each other’s grammar, if you can believe that, as a game! We enjoy reading and we watch films multiple times to analyze them. That’s just how we are, and no matter how much I try to alter my psyche, it will just be a fake version that everyone can detect.
        But–if the care and concern I try to show are true and real, they will know that, too.
        Then, to them, I am just the educated one who cares. Then they seek my help, because trust has happened.
        So, I think a lot of it has to do with thinking about others, reaching out to others, being excellent for the sake of others. Doing our best is, truly, right and very important. We must not stop because someone who is not doing well is jealous.

      • I wonder if my friends could tell I was being fake? Not anymore though, I kind of developed into the person I was pretending to be… Not always a good thing.

  3. Just do the very best you can. People will either like you or not. You have to let that go, because we have no control over their feelings, what they think, or where they are coming from. You sound very real, and very human. Don’t beat yourself up. Just do your best. Your children will pick that up on that too.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I could definitely do with some chilling out. I tend to overanalyze things to a fault! See, I’m still trying to make everyone like me. That’s why this whole thing bothers me so much. I need to please God, love everybody, and leave everything else to chance, I guess. Or maybe that’s oversimplifying…

  4. Not chance.
    God.
    He has said we will encounter those who hate us because they hated Him. We just have to be sure we are doing right (which is right up your natural alley, I think! :-) ) and then we just leave it in His hands. One of my favorite passages is in Job, when Elihu introduces himself, basically saying, “I waited for the older ones to speak, not wanting to appear pushy or a smart-aleck. Then I could see they did not know and so now, I will speak.”
    See? If it makes you feel any better, it is an ages-old occurrence.
    The best part is that when we leave it to God, He takes good care of us and comforts us in our sorrows.
    Those who hate excellence do not have that comfort.

  5. I feel that there is no shame is taking pride in your work. However, bragging and boasting about is entirely different. You should teach your son and niece to be proud of their accomplishments, while being humble about them at the same time. I suppose a little bit of bragging is ok too, as long as you’re not trying to “one-up” someone else as the purpose.
    I think you’re doing just fine when it comes to your son. Whenever we are playing with legos, coloring, or doing anything else side-by-side, he always takes the time to look at my work, compliment me first, and then say something about his work (seeking for a little approval). He’ll say something like “Oh wow Kimmy, that looks GREAT! You did a really GOOD JOB! Um, what do think of mine?” Of course I always tell him that his is awesome too and he just smiles and goes about his business, not saying another word about it.
    The other day, I was coloring with a little five-year-old girl that I was babysitting. She looked over at my page and said “Hmmm, thats ‘kinda’ pretty, but isn’t mine just soooooo much prettier than yours?” I was extremely amused and had trouble telling her through the giggles that that wasn’t very nice to say, but that hers was ‘really’ pretty too. I could just imagine someone else who colored with her previously telling her that she liked hers so much and that it was soooo much prettier than hers was.
    My theory is, teach your children to be proud of themselves, but when they are doing anything that closely resembles what others around them are doing, to be humble and make sure they take the time to appreciate the other kids’ work too, and not to brag about their own so as not to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Children need to feel proud and accomplished, that sets them up for future accomplishments. And there is somethings wonderful about knowing you did your best. I think the problem is, parents are so proud of their own kids and their accomplishments, that they forget to stress the importance of the hard work that the other kids may have put into their efforts as well.

    • Kim, that is so wise. Thank you for taking the time to write such a well-thought response. I have truly been enjoying the comments on this post (probably because most of them affirm my attitude – lol). I have heard Ian do things like that before, but I never really thought about it to that extent. I guess he has a pretty good foundation for affirming others, so I will try to make a concentrated effort to keep moving him and Jade along in that direction.

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