Recently I asked some of my friends whether they’d submitted abstracts to a regional conference we’d all discussed presenting our research at.  Out of the 5 friends I asked…all five responded with variations on the theme of ‘no, I’m not doing that’.  The particular response that stuck out to me the most was one text that said #overachiever. Here it was meant as a sort of roll-your-eyes joke, but it got me thinking about what being an “overachiever” really means, why people think it’s an okay insult [although in the context of the text I got I don’t think it was meant this way, in this post that’s what I am going to explore], and how people on the receiving end of being called an overachiever can embrace the title.


What does it mean to be an overachiever?  Wikipedia says that “[o]verachievers are individuals who “perform better or achieve more success than expected.'”

My basic interpretation of being an overachiever is in line with the above definition:  it means doing more than is expected of you.  But I say that expectation may be based on the sometimes faulty assumptions that others have of your drive and capabilities; or others are jealous of your accomplishments and use the term “overachiever” to make themselves feel okay with not performing up to an internal standard they have set.  You may be labeled as an overachiever within your surroundings even when you feel as though you’re not measuring up to your own standards.  Maybe others think you are trying to one-up them – even if you have remained modest or even silent about your accomplishments!

Why do people think “overachiever” is an okay insult?  Just like other phrases that can be used to belittle other people, as an insult it comes from a place of jealousy, of disappointment in one’s self, even if that is not the conscious emotion of the speaker at the moment it is said.  And yet “overachiever” at its etymology does not have a negative connotation.  It can mean achieving more than your potential because you work hard and set lofty goals for yourself.  If you know that you are stretching yourself to achieve what you have, then being an “overachiever” may be a trait with which you like to associate.  Because the word has a positive meaning as well, it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as most other insults.

Finally, how can you embrace being called an overachiever when it’s directed at you as an insult?  By keeping in mind that you wouldn’t be called an overachiever if you weren’t doing something more than those around you.  In the long run, being an overachiever means being a few steps ahead of your peers and embracing the high internal standards you’ve set for yourself.  The extra effort you are putting in is being noticed, and that’s a good thing!  Even if in the moment of hearing “overachiever” directed at you, you roll your eyes, remember that if one person is noticing your efforts, chances are others are as well, whether or not they tell you.  So, keep going strong!


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