Woe Is Me! “I’ve Been an Overachiever, but Now I’m Struggling. Will This Identity Crisis Ever End?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“If you’ve been an overachiever in any field, you are used to a certain amount of external validation. But when you grow up to realize there are several others on your level, thus knocking you off your pedestal, it can cause an identity crisis.”
— Somebody I Used to Know
RN: I think a part of growing up is realizing that you can be successful without anyone knocking anybody off any pedestals. It depends on how you define success. If it’s in the form of appraisals at work and validation from your boss, it’s so short-lived as to be irrelevant many years later. Think about what you want for yourself and how you can achieve that, rather than how society conventionally defines success. There is no greater feeling than finding peace with yourself and owning your decisions and your work against naysayers. The world, as it is right now, is hard enough to deal with without other people in the equation. You are not the sum of your achievements, you are just you. It’s perhaps time to get back in touch with yourself and rediscover your own dreams sans the influence of others.
PB: My first day of university, I arrived in class with my head in the clouds, confident I was the best in the room — because that was what I had always seen and always been told. I believed it was also the reason I got into this university, to begin with — because I was better than most in my chosen field.
That first day and the following week destroyed all my sense of self-perception. I was behind, and for the first time in my life, outclassed by most of my peers. It’s easy to be the best at something when you’re the only one pursuing it, but all of that changes when you enter a room full of people who have done the same. And they’ve done it better. I didn’t deal with it well at first, but over time I taught myself to climb the stairs and not squat on them. Over time, I learned that many people might always be a couple of steps above me, but I could still get close. Over time, I realized that there is no pedestal; there are only infinite steps. I’ll be thankful for the realization, because it defeated my overconfidence, and taught me to stop viewing everything as a competition rather than working with my peers, and understanding that they feel the same way too.
There’s always going to be bigger fish in an ever-expanding pond, but we must keep swimming.
SM: If you’ve been an overachiever who is currently struggling, it’s actually a great place to be in, because it means it’s a moment to reflect and recalibrate how you think and function. You can actually take this moment to think back on what made you an overachiever growing up — was it because you were happy doing the things you were doing? Or, was it because you were conditioned to work really hard for and value a certain kind of success? Or, was it a combination of these, or something else entirely? That would help you understand if you’re struggling today because of a lack of similar structures, disillusionment, or just because you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. More often than not, we aren’t “over” or “under” achievers because we’re inherently untalented, but because we’re not in the right space at the right time. Starting with thinking about whether it’s a case of that here, and then think about where you would want to be and what you would want to do that would truly make you happy. I suppose the only real accomplishment is figuring out what brings us joy and trying to cultivate that.
DR: Your identity crisis can only end when you truly start the process of rediscovering yourself from scratch, after having discarded the image of yourself you’re trying to live up to — either because you believe people perceive you as that and you don’t want to disappoint them, or because you believe you won’t be worth anything if that’s not who you are. The harder we try to stifle who are, the more the crisis you mentioned, deepens. So, I’d advise you lots of introspection — so you can get to know yourself better, in whatever way it might be helpful for you. If it helps, maybe you can think of some words that you believe describe you, and start questioning why you so. Might end up being a fun exercise for you, or might not. Either way, I hope you get to know yourself better soon!