Can I escape over-achievement hell?

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I’d like to start this post by stating that I don’t have an answer to this question. It is going to require time, patience, and persistent experimentation.

Having been born in 1983, I am on the older side of the Millennial generation. According to The Balance Careers, we have various characteristics in common, including being team-oriented, hungry for feedback, and having a strong drive to achieve and succeed. While these are great qualities, many of us have or are experiencing feelings of burning out.

I have always been a driven, goal-oriented person. The past 3+ years I have carried a calendar book with me, my feelings of pride toward my productivity and organizational skills mixed with a growing sense of suffocation and rigidity. This book guides me during busy times and I have used it to continue to push forward in times of chaos when rest may have better served me.

Around two years ago, I began seriously questioning the purpose of tasks I loaded onto my to-do list. The urge to do less became an idea that I began obsessing over. But before I could do less I felt I had to continue doing more, whether it be making alternate career decisions, committing to college, ideas, and plans. In my mind, I need to achieve more to ‘earn’ the right to do less, which is backwards. Rest does not need to be earned – it should be considered a right. Anne Helen Peterson, in her article entitled “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation“, she states: “…[I]’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.” Me too, girl.

Can I slow down? Can I change? Can I increase my happiness and decrease my to-do list after a lifetime of this tiring, overly-productive personality trait?

I am going to try and seek the answer to these questions. My first step is to begin putting less on my daily to-do list, using it to only keep track of important appointments, dates, and my weekly workouts as opposed to a [stifling] list of tasks and goals. Maybe this book has done more harm than good, but until time has passed and I have had a chance to reflect I will not know. I will be sure to share my findings here in the future.

Personal Reflection: Quitting and Mediocrity.

When I wrote the blogs about quitting and mediocrity, I had no idea that these questions would become extremely relevant in my life within just a few weeks.

Just a week and a half ago, I was a student pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at Purdue Global University. I was (and still am) a full time employee at a busy law firm with a family, animals, and various eclectic hobbies and interests. Academically I was doing extremely well, achieving a 4.0 in my first term with a projection of earning the same for the second. Despite being successful, it was hard to realize my success when I felt constantly tense, stressed, and anxious about the work I had to do.

A typical work day was this: Wake up – Shower – Get ready for work – Pick up the downstairs – School work for 30-40 min – Drive to work – Work 8-8.5 hours – Come home and visit with the dogs and family – Dinner – School work or seminar (depending on the day) for 2-3 hours – Bed.

A typical weekend day was: Wake up – Pick up the house – School work for 3-6 hours – Bike ride – Couch/Netflix.

I had to have an honest discussion with myself; the main questions being: Is this what I want my life to be like for the next 4 years? Is this lifestyle sustainable?

The answer was a resounding “No”.

This decision consumed me for days and I kept it to myself, feeling disappointed that after only 1.5 terms I was seriously considering calling it quits. I felt ashamed having to tell my family, my close friends, and a couple of colleagues that I did not wish to continue my education. That my goal had changed, yet again; another task to add to the list of things I’ve quit over my lifetime.

The thing is, I knew I could do the work. I was (and am) seriously proud of myself for maintaining high grades when I had not been a student in 17 years. To be blunt – I just kicked some serious ass in college and if my education was my only obligation, I could continue to excel and earn my 4.0s. When I started the program, I was concerned with my ability to do the work. Could I take effective notes? Could I manage multiple-choice questions (which I’ve never been good at); could I make the time to do the work? The answers to all of those questions were yes, yes, and yes!

Yet, I withdrew. The goal and the work involved was not suiting or serving me. The benefits of having my free time back to spend it with family, friends, and my hobbies far outweighed the benefits of obtaining my Bachelor’s and moving on to a Master’s program or to law school. My “mediocre” and largely predictable life is actually exactly where I want to be. When it came to announcing my decision, I received nothing but support and love from everyone I shared the news with. My choice made a definitive statement as to where my priorities lie.

So, here is me today, my second full weekend being out of college. I have the entire weekend to work on things that fuel my soul. I have my weekday nights back. I have made regular exercise a priority again for my physical and mental health. I am happy; I am proud to be a quitter and an owner of a brilliantly mediocre and satisfying life.

Is it ever okay to quit?

The notion of quitting a goal has a negative connotation. The internet is flooded with quotes meant to inspire people to keep moving forward, regardless of what it takes.

Society tends to look down on those who quit. Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D states, “…we feel sorry, unsympathetic, or worse, indifferent toward people who quit. There is nothing to be learned from them.”

My question is this: In certain circumstances, is it okay to quit? The above quote says no, but Mary Laura Philpott in the September 2020 issue of Real Simple magazine disagrees. Actually, her opinion is right in the title of her article “A Good Quit Feels Powerful”. Philpott indicates that the act of quitting something that is no longer serving us sends a strong message about what we deem is important in our lives. The things we do not choose are just as significant as what we choose.

So, what if you are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged? Would losing that last stubborn few pounds make a big difference in your mental state or solve all of your problems? Or would incorporating some quiet time or meditation better meet your needs?

I think the real answer to my question is deeply personal. For instance, I have started and quit many things over the years for various reasons. I quit my last blogging endeavor because it not longer felt successful or purposeful to me. I quit my trial period of a weight loss app because after a month of not losing a pound, I felt disappointed and stressed. It was not bringing me joy or a sense of pride. I’ve quit jobs, friendships, and feelings of obligations toward others. Yet, one thing that never quits is my motivation to improve my life and my relationship with myself.

If you do make the decision to quit something right now, don’t have it be reading this post because you’ll miss Maralee Bradley’s sage advice:

“Here is the simplest advice that I can give you if you decide to quit: bury the goal, mourn it, and move on. Giving up on something that you have wanted for a long time is painful. It deserves a proper burial and maybe a short mourning period, but you have to move on. To continue thinking about it, wondering what if I tried harder or worked on it longer, and imagining what life would have been like if you had succeeded, is only going to make you feel worse and keep you stuck in self-pity and self-blame. And the best way to move on is to direct your energy, hope, and enthusiasm toward new ideas, new projects, and new goals.”

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References:

Tsaousides, Thad, Ph.D (2018, May 29). Is It Time to Give Up On Your Dreams?. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201805/is-it-time-give-your-dreams

Philpott, Mary Laura (2020, September). A Good Quit Feels Powerful. Real Simple, 14.

Bradley, Maralee (n.d.) I’m Raising My Kids to be Quitters. Her View From Home. https://herviewfromhome.com/kids-sometimes-its-ok-to-quit/