Over-Achievers Can Suffer from Self-Sabotage and Workplace Toxicity

Perfectionists may find it a struggle to climb the corporate ladder. Logically, this doesn’t even make sense. I certainly thought that it was ridiculous when I was a young professional! I didn’t see why I rarely received any acknowledgement from myteam when I obviously worked so hard. I had a great relationships with my clients and they appreciated my diligence, but why didn’t my team?

The sad fact is perfectionists often struggle to achievepromotions. Overachievers often suffer from workplace toxicity that is bornfrom insecurity, fear, or envy. In some cases, perfectionists forget to createcritical workplace relationships because we are so focused on performance excellence.In order to succeed in an organization, you absolutely must become connected tothe community. Being the best at your job is arguably second, or even third inthe success prioritization matrix.

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism

As a recovering perfectionist, I know all too well the pitfalls that trap unwary overachievers. Most common challenges for perfectionists are self-induced – such as fear of failure, excessively detail focused, choosing work over personal needs, low self-esteem and being overly-critical of ourselves.

People mistakenly believe that perfectionism is a healthy motivator, but that’s not the case.

David Heitz

External challenges can come in the form of misplaced assumptions. Most often perfectionists are labeled as ‘cold’ or stand-offish. This encourages back-stabbing, stonewalling, and miscommunication. The need for the overachiever to be very professional can inhibit us from appearing approachable which can lead to feelings of isolation.

What Drives Overachievers?

 Perfectionism is a trait with roots in everything from childhood experiences to personality traits.Dr. Brené Brown, well-known research professor at the University of Houston, states: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.” She explains that perfectionism is an often outgrowth of people’s need to protect against the pain of blame, judgment, or shame.

While I cannot speak for every perfectionist in the world -I have dug deep and asked many questions to come up with the root causes of whyI set unrealistic expectations for myself. One of those is a drive to be thebest, at whatever cost, because I suffered from low self-esteem. I never feltthat I was worth anything. I was different in school than the other kids so allI heard was how stupid, horrible, and ugly I was. I was in mymid-thirties until I finally started to overcome this debilitating falsebelief.

How Can We Learn to Let Go?

First, I recommend you ask yourself: “WHY”. Keep asking and keep digging until you get to the ugly falsehoods that you have established as a part of who you are. Dare to rip the ‘fake news’ reel about who you are out of your heart and into the light of truth. I guarantee, once you confront your own negative beliefs about yourself, you will see them begin to wither. You may have put them there, they may have grown from trauma or what other people told you about yourself.

I have a radical idea: you can be anyone you want to be, regardless of what other people say.

Second, become very real about your current situation. What are you core consistent perfectionist behaviors? Consider these behaviors from an objective standpoint. Ask yourself if these overachieving traits make you a better person, employee, friend, spouse or parent. If you are genuinely honest with yourself, you will find that the overwhelming majority of those behaviors do not support a healthy lifestyle.

How to Pivot Out of Perfectionism

While I have largely overcome my feelings of low self-worth; overachievement and extreme hard work ethics is written in my DNA. I have to practice daily intentionality to remind myself of the following:

  • Set realistic goals for yourself. Take your list and cut it in half, then do it again – before you start.
  • Establish a fail-forward mindset. The path to success is paved with failure, it’s how we learn.
  • Put  people first. Don’t ever underestimate the power of relationships. Connecting with others is your first priority, not your last.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Do it now. Motivation doesn’t find you, you find it.
  • Establish expectations with others. What you think is good enough might be way more than what is needed. Avoid overachieving by understanding expectations, especially at work.
  • Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Like the 80’s rap song, it’s a good idea to reflect periodically to make sure you are staying true to a positive focus and not self-sabotaging.

Redefine Your Happiness Quotient

Another trait that I have found that drives perfectionist type behavior is the overwhelming desire for perfect outcomes in order to be ‘happy’.When you observe this objectively, it is another extremely debilitating behavior that actually creates less opportunity for contentment, peace and satisfaction. By putting unrealistic expectations on when you can be happy, it decreases the chances of you enjoying that state of mind!

A trend that I have noticed in the last 10 years is the mislabeling of ‘happy’. Happiness is not a continual state of joy or ecstasy. Those are fleeting moments. Happiness is also connected with more subtle feelings of peace, contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction and even just neutral quiet. Everyone wants to be happy! Don’t let happiness pass you up because you forgot it’s more subtle opportunities.

Finding a Healthy Balance

In the workplace, it’s critical for perfectionists to be mindful of their behaviors and connect to those around them. By focusing on likeability and relationships first, you are more likely to be sought out by others and become a part of the organizational community. Be open and transparent about your tendencies to be an overachiever and find an accountability buddy to keep yourself on track.

Have honest conversations with your mentors and your manager.Ask for developmental feedback to help you grow in the right direction. Taketime and focus on your well-being, work/life balance, and be highly intentional about setting realistic expectations. Perfectionists often struggle to achieve promotions due to team disconnect. Be cognizant of your overachieving behaviors and channel that energy into building lasting relationships instead.