Something interesting happened when I first became self-aware that I was a high-achiever. It gave me language to better understand myself. And like any language that expands our understanding, I wore it as an identity.
Years later came the next level of self-awareness – the realization that every label has its downsides.
I first noticed it when I’d describe myself to others as a high-achiever and then comedically add that I wished I could turn it off and live without the high expectations that come baked into the label of high-achiever.
I made a Faustian bargain. I believed that to be a high-achiever I accepted the need to be ever-driven and push myself for more achievement until I burned out. There was no off button – it was all or nothing. That was just part of the deal.
And there I was for some time – stuck in a belief of the need for more, always more.
Then a coach challenged my perspective, allowing me to arrive to a deeper layer of self-awareness. He asked a simple quesiton – “Why not operate under the complete opposite assumption you normally default to?”
In other words, try being someone else, just for the next two weeks and see what happens.
Anytime I felt the urge to throttle the achievement lever, I paused to understand where the urge was coming from rather than plowing forward like a bulldozer. I’d ask myelf why I felt the need to achieve – was it a desire of my own or one imposed by the external world? Was it aligned to my purpose or was I just doing it to avoid getting clarity around my purpose?
This space was just the thing I needed to break the incessant narrow-focused high-achiever need to get shit done.
Three interesting things happened when I began to observe and rethink the self-limiting parts of my high-achiever identity.
First, I realized I spent a lot of time on non-essential activities because I didn’t have a clear purpose. Once I defined my purpose, I refocused on the essential things and got more done while doing less.
Secondly, I noticed how much fear held me back because of perfectionism and impostor syndrome, both of which are common in high-achievers. With a purpose clearly defined, I still noticed the fear but it no longer held me back. Instead, the fear became an indicator of a growth opportunity. Rather than avoid doing the real work and substituting it with the unimportant, I tackled it head on.
Most importantly, I found balance. Contrary to what I used to believe, it’s been so much more fulfilling than a life of constantly striving for more. I had gotten used to living life with an eye towards the future, obsessed with figuring out what would come next, that I missed life in the present.
This is all to say that we have within us the power to reshape our identities. Yes, you can change. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, especially yourself.