Five Lessons From Overachievers

Five Lessons From Overachievers


A mother of two gets promoted to head an entirely new department after being with the company for a mere six weeks.

A college dropout churns out new, highly popular apps every month and teaches himself Chinese “to take his mind off work.”

A successful entrepreneur constantly embarks on new, ambitious ventures… that is, when he’s not fundraising for charities.

Overachievers. Often the subject of amazement and surprise, they’re the “I Don’t Know How She Does It” individuals. They’re the ones who always go the extra mile and don’t give up. The ones who pick themselves up and start over. The ones who work harder, run faster, and aim higher. The ones who seem to succeed at everything they do… and unlike most of us, they’re rarely limited to only one ambition. Many seem superhuman, and we mortals are left wondering, “Why do they do it—and where do they get the energy?”

Despite the fact that many people associate the term with individuals who are overly ambitious, there are numerous, notable people in a variety of industries who can be considered overachievers. These include businessmen and philanthropists Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates; U.S. Secretary of State and writer Hilary Clinton; and even The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik, former child-star, currently Emmy-nominated actress, and real life neuroscientist. And though talent, intelligence, and education seem to play a large role in their successes, it’s undeniable that drive is equally important.

So what is it that drives overachievers?

Behind the Drive

Psychology Today states that everybody is driven to achieve goals, but overachievers differ in that some experience an often subconscious fear of failure. Their fear, a primal instinct and powerful motivator, drives them to excel. For other overachievers, their self-worth relies on their measurable success. And since humans are social animals, another primal instinct lies at the root of their drive.

However, according to performance psychologist John Eliot in another Psychology Today article, “What most people aim for and train for is mediocrity. They never really get to put their true potential into play.” Eliot claims that by following the widely known prescription for success—relax, set goals, visualize success—you’ll never rise above the rank and file. And his opinion about what sets overachievers apart is that they handle failure differently from the rest of us. He believes overachievers have a significant dose of irrationality at their disposal. When every natural law is screaming at them to stop, this drives them to continue on, learning from their mistakes and turning their weaknesses into strengths.

Lessons from Overachievers

Either way, no matter how their psyches work, there’s no doubt about it. True overachievers possess certain qualities that keep pushing them to the top of the heap.

But if you, like most of us, aren’t superhuman, wouldn’t it be great to have just one or two of those qualities? Just to give you a bit of an edge and help with your career advancement?

Here’s the good news: some of those qualities can be learned! And with some work and repetition, you can master and use them throughout your career.

  1. Time management. No matter whether they multi-task or mono-task, overachievers know how to set boundaries around their time. They get up early, work consistently, and know how to make the most out of every moment—including the relaxing ones. Make a realistic schedule for yourself and stick to it to boost your productivity and enhance your appreciation of your leisure time.
  2. Ambition. Knowing what you want to achieve is the only smart way to approach career advancement. Even if your goals seem high right now, remind yourself that you’ll be gaining knowledge, experience, and other resources as you develop.
  3. No fear of failure. Failing is a fact of life for overachievers too. But for them it’s just another step. Practically every successful person has failures, big or small, in his or her past, and will most likely have more in the future. The trick is not to be afraid to fail. Instead, consider failures or lack of successes to be educational opportunities on how you can do it better next time.
  4. Organization. Overachievers are organized. They know where they keep their files and they know where to find the information they need. Clutter is time consuming and distracting, so keep your workspace organized.
  5. Curiosity. One of the main strengths of overachievers is that they know what they don’t know. That’s why they’re dedicated to lifelong learning. So instead of simply assuming something is outside of your field or too difficult for you to understand, take the time to research it and find out what you need to know.

Choose one or two of these qualities and practice them until they’re second nature. Before long, you’re bound to see some surprising changes in your accruing accomplishments.