I Don’t Want my Children to be Overachievers

I have a love-hate relationship with swag and knick knacks that have inspirational sayings on them. Live laugh love? Usually when I’m out shopping, I want to live laugh and leave ’em on the shelf.

I do enjoy reading them, taking pictures of them, and using them to inspire some blog writing, but I just hate collecting them… with one exception: I love coffee mugs. Why coffee mugs? I couldn’t tell you, it’s just one of those things.

I hate clutter but I adore collecting mugs. (Which admittedly makes me hard to live with; my kids learned early on that my decluttering tornadoes have meant they have had to prematurely say goodbye to something they needed (or not, if it got swept up while they were out!) but they could not mess with my mugs. There is definitely a difference between a collection and a pile of stuff, but that’s a topic for another day!

On a recent family vacation, I went out for my morning walk in a cutesy local beach town for a much-needed cup of coffee. Next door to the coffee shop was a gift store, and in the window I saw hanging a t-shirt that read “Overachiever.” As I waited for my coffee, I started to think about that word, overachiever.

I felt my stomach start to get knotted up… was I just craving my caffeine fix and regretting not adding a delicious-looking pastry to my order? Or was I processing that loaded word? When did becoming an “overachiever” become something to brag about? Is that really a goal we want to set for ourselves? For our daughters?

And what are we trying to overachieve anyway? Overachieve the goals that people want for us, our parents, our friends, or our bosses? Or worse, overachieve the goals we set for ourselves? If the purpose of the goal is to overachieve it, we are really in trouble!

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to buy every one of those t-shirts and use my wide nib Sharpie to black out the word “over.”

When we “over” do something, we often ruin it. Think about baking cookies… The recipe says, “Bake at 345 degrees for 7 – 9 minutes.” Your cookies will burn if you overdo either the temperature or the minutes.

Or what about exercising… If you are back at the gym for the first time in 6 months and you say to yourself, “I am going to walk 20 minutes,” but then you decide to run for 60, you may wind up hurting yourself – and not achieving anything.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in setting goals, and I used to pride myself on overachieving them, but then last year, I overdid it. I was on a quest to overachieve every goal I set. And in December, I found myself in bed with a tonsil infection gone bad. Somehow, my infection landed in my jaw, and I got lock-jaw: I literally could not open my jaw. (And if you know me, it takes a lot for me to not open my mouth.)

I was practically in bed for three weeks (but it was college application season, so for this overachiever, I had to figure out how to make it work). The doctors kept telling me to rest, but I didn’t believe them until I was forced to.

Oh, the guilt. I felt as if I was letting everyone down. In my quest to overachieve, I overcommitted myself. So not only did I physically feel awful, I was not kind to myself emotionally. It was rough. It was not a feeling that I would ever want my children – or my students – to feel. Yet they do. High school students work themselves to the point of exhaustion. They try to do too much. They try to overachieve. They walk around like zombies, often grumpy, overwhelmed, and unhappy.

Take it from me, reaching to overachieve a goal often backfires. So here is the advice I am giving to myself, my children, and my students.

Set goals, but then ask yourself:

  • Are they realistic?
  • Is the outcome something I have control over?
  • Are these goals I am setting for myself, or because I want to live up to the label of “overachiever?”
  • Can I reach these goals and still sleep, eat, laugh, and live? (Hey, maybe those inspirational signs have a point!)
  • Who are these goals for anyway (me, my parents, my friends, my boss)?
  • How can I celebrate along the way to help keep myself motivated?
  • How can I celebrate little milestones even if I don’t 100% reach my goal?


And most importantly:

  • How can I know when enough is enough?


Guess what… you are enough!

Let’s get started