Merriam-Webster defines an overachiever as “one who achieves success over and above the standard or expected level especially at an early age.”  My name is Linda.  I am an overachiever.  I beat myself up when I do not achieve to some unrealistic standard.  I achieve more than most people do.  I am unsure why I am an overachiever but it has history from my childhood.  

I found myself lately scheduling fun.  Not living in the moment.  Surviving and not thriving.  All in the pursuit of success to feed my fear of failure.  Anyone that looks at my life looks at a person who has a lot of fun while working hard.  I was having fun and then checking fun off a checklist.  That activity was fun.  Fun was checked off the list.  That activity was fun.  Fun was checked off the list and so on.  While I was having fun, I was beating myself up for not doing the 5 things on my task list for the day and worrying about the 5 meetings the next day.  I was making myself feel guilty about fun.

I wanted to work on overcoming guilt so I came up with the following methods:

1. Recognize Guilt (Unhealthy or Normal)

Some guilt is okay, even healthy.  For instance, if you indulged in holiday candy and ate until you are sick you should feel guilty about that.  You consumed 5 desserts and could hardly walk out of a restaurant.  You should feel guilty for both these scenarios.

But what if you worked an 80-hour work week and didn’t make it to your family function.  Again.  What if you refuse to delegate that task because the person you wanted to delegate to isn’t going to complete it to your standard?  I feel this is appropriate guilt and common for an overachiever.

Normal guilt arises when you can change your behavior.  It is the little accountabilibuddy in your life.  Are you working out?  Are you eating right?  Are you having fun?

I cannot be everywhere all of the time.  I do like to mentor and help entrepreneurs.  I do like to write for people.  I dread the person who says let’s meet up for lunch or coffee.  I immediately feel my heart rate rise as I try to imagine where I am going to fit them in my already full calendar.  I feel guilty for not being able to help them.  My guilt in this situation is unhealthy because it doesn’t serve any real purpose.  No mistake happened here.  Nobody died.  I just could not find time to help this person.

Unhealthy guilt is blown out of proportion in the overachiever and can put a spin on the day that could ultimately contribute to depression or low self-esteem.

2. Reality Check

Should you be feeling guilty?  So for an overachiever, you can take a mean of the people you hang out with.  Are you feeling guilty about not getting that 80th hour of work in this week?  Did the 5 friends you respect and hang out with work 80 hours?  I am sure they did not.  Stop putting the guilt on yourself with unrealistic expectations.   This is guilt gone wrong and can be unhealthy.  Go ahead and compare yourself to others.  Reel in that overachieving tendency.

3. Beware of Guilt Trips

People you hang around with and even other overachievers can make you feel guilty.  They can do this to advance their own agenda, often unintentionally.  Analyze the other person’s point of view and determine if they are accounting for your needs.  Be careful and always put yourself first in the situation and don’t overload your agenda.

4. Change sooner rather than later

If your guilt is normal or rational, healthy guilt, then take action to fix the problem.  Stop overeating.  Recognize you are working too much and change your schedule.  Apologize to the person you may have offended with the hasty comment.  Stop doing the things that make you feel guilty.  Get rid of the heaviness and live in the moment.

Accept you did something wrong, you are only human, and move on.

An overachiever will focus and focus on the fact they could have done something more.  They should have been there.  Stop engaging in the self-loathing, self-blame and self-punishment because you should have acted differently, you should have worked more, you should have been the better person.  Let that go and move on.  The more energy that is wasted on believing you could have done more will prohibit your self-growth.

5. Learn from behaviors

Guilt can be nauseating and can eat an overachiever alive.  You can feel guilty about anything that prevents you from achieving.  If you have found your guilt to be unhealthy, then you can’t really learn anything.  You need to change the behavior so you can get your stress level down. 

Grow some self-esteem and don’t let anyone feel guilty for taking your time.  Put your own work and family first and if you have time then spend it with other people.  Control your time and you will control your guilt about time.

If you are constantly apologizing for snide and careless remarks, stop saying the remarks.  Filter your mouth and wait to speak.  Get rid of the guilt associated with insulting another person. 

Perfection doesn’t exist in anyone

Nobody is perfect.  Looking at others and holding you to an unrealistic standard when the others aren’t leading a perfect life either.  Perfection cannot be achieved and striving for perfection can be a recipe for failure.

Guilt is one of those negative things that take time from thriving.  Like the author Andy Stanley suggests, break free from the destructive power of guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.