“By faithfully working 8 hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work 12 hours a day.”
Robert Frost (Poet, The Road Not Taken)
“I’m this overachiever type, I’ll just work and work and I’ll just do it over and over and over again.”
Venus Williams (22X Grand Slam Tennis Champion)
“Overachievers don’t think reasonably, sensibly, or rationally.”
John Eliot, Ph.D. (Author; Overachievement)
Self-awareness should never be sacrificed to ambition.
I signed up for one of those $2,000 Kaplan training courses in college to help me prepare for the MCAT. It was a disaster. They gave me like 12 giant books and basically forced me to come to these excruciating 3-hour classes to listen to some 20-year old MCAT super-nerd robot recite a teaching manual verbatim. I “studied” for 3 months.
I don’t remember anything from those classes except for the dressing patterns of the pretty girl who sat next to me. But she wasn’t the reason I signed up for the course. I signed up because I kept bombing the physics section of the test and Kaplan promised that learning in a group setting would help. Plus, the class was expensive and expensive things are always best, right?
I scored in the 60th percentile that year. That’s really bad by the way. Only Bozo The Clown’s medical college accepts people in the 60th percentile. A year later, I bought one Princeton Review MCAT training book for 30 bucks, studied on my own for 2 weeks, and scored in the 91st percentile.
When I started graduate school I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that you had to show up to a lab and work. The Principle Investigator (PI) in my lab was a new professor working to get tenure so he was there like 16 hours a day. I wanted to impress him so I would show up at 8am every day and stay until 11pm. A few weeks into the first semester he complimented me on my work ethic so I started staying until midnight. Seriously. That lasted for about a year and a half. Then, one day, on the verge of a mental breakdown, I left at 9pm. My PI was disappointed. And he let me know it. By my 5th year I was leaving at 6pm like a normal person and my mentor hated my guts. What happened?
Type-A, Type-B, or …Type D?
Type-A individuals have been characterized as ambitious, rigidly organized, sensitive, truthful, impatient, proactive, always trying to help others, taking on more than they can handle, wanting other people to get to the point, and obsessed with time management. Basically this means that Type-A people like to get stuff done and hate when others get in their way. But it also means that Type-A people are honest and are quick to help others achieve their goals.
Type-B people, on the other hand, are less competitive and more reflective; they usually don’t mind losing and can be quick to back down from a challenge. Cardiologists used to think that Type-A people had a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes but most of this research has been shown to be inconclusive or straight up wrong. Instead, people with Type-D personalities — those who have a negative outlook on life and always suppress their feelings — have the greatest risk of heart disease.
33 Mistakes Overachievers Commonly Make
Type-A people may not be at a greater risk of having a heart attack, but they do face other risks. For example, they risk getting so caught up in the work they’re doing that they spend their entire lives working for other people. Overachievers have the silly habit of letting other, less capable people ride them into the ground. Type-As also run the risk of spreading themselves too thin or putting people off by their overeager nature. Too many hardworking people have half the influence they should simply because they refuse to step back and look at the results of their Type-A behavior. If these people did step back, they would quickly realize that not all hard work is created equal. They would also realize that some Type-A behaviors are actually pitfalls that should be avoided. Here are 33 pitfalls that overachievers like you should avoid:
1. Showing up early.
Last spring I went to a small, intimate conference for entrepreneurs and was so excited that I showed up like 15 minutes early on the first day. The organizers were doing some last minute checks so they said “hi” and then went back to work. No one else was there so I shuffled around awkwardly, pretended to play on my phone, and eventually found a plant to hide behind.
Showing up early is one of the biggest mistakes Type-A people make. The truth is you should never show up more than 5 minutes early to anything. Showing up early doesn’t show other people that you’re eager or a good worker, it shows them that you’re disruptive of other people’s schedules and don’t know how to manage your time. If you show up somewhere more than 5 minutes early simply circle the block, sit in your car, or go to a coffee shop.
2. Staying too long.
Don’t be the last person at the party. This is even worse than showing up early. Type-As are characterized as constantly worrying about being left out and, as a result, want to be always present. They want to make sure that they’re not missing anything important. So they stay. And stay and stay and stay. This is a mistake.
A better strategy is to leave every event at it’s highest point — when the party is peaking. And don’t go around like a senior citizen and say goodbye to everyone. Just ghost. Give an Irish goodbye. This isn’t the 1960’s. Everyone will be okay without you and no one worthwhile will be offended.
Say farewell when your ratings are at their highest. Be like Seinfeld or Breaking Bad and go out on top. Don’t be like Frasier and stay on air 5 years longer than you should.
3. Setting the bar too high.
I can be kind of a neat freak. I’m not that bad now but in college I was obsessively organized. My sophomore and junior years I lived in a suite with 3 other guys and I always kept the common room and my individual room immaculate. There were a few busy days each year when I didn’t have time to keep my room clean. Everyone noticed and busted my balls for it.
Meanwhile, my roommates’ rooms were disasters. One of the rooms was absolutely disgusting. But when my roommate cleaned it, all of the girls in our hall would come over to look at it and tell him how amazing it was. Total bullshit.
When starting a new job, I used to be so concerned with making a good first impression that, for the first few weeks, I would be the first one into the office and the last one to leave. A few weeks turned into months and months into years because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Now, I’ll show up late the first few weeks and leave as early as possible so the only direction to go is up.
Type-A overachievers constantly make the mistake of boxing themselves in. They set the bar super high, raising everyone’s expectations and erasing all wiggle room. Try lowering the bar just a bit. The key is to still make a good first impression — get the job, show your skills, be kind — then ease back to manage expectations and leave yourself space to overdeliver.
4. Always being available.
Learn the difference between availability and reliability. You should always be reliable, but not always available. The more available something is, the less perceived value it has. In marketing this is called the scarcity principle and it applies to humans too.
5. Being too eager.
Eagerness is not attractive. During a study at the University of Virginia, researchers showed a group of participants fake dating profiles and told the participants that the people in the profiles were real and either liked them a lot, liked them a little, maybe liked them, or did not like them. Surprisingly, when the participants were asked which profile they found the most attractive, the majority of them chose those that “maybe liked them.” Other studies have confirmed that coming on too strong can be unattractive.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be enthusiastic and ambitious or that you should lie about your true feelings. It means that you should be confident in who you are and what you have to offer. Self-assured people don’t need to act eager because they don’t need anything.
6. Feeling guilty.
Feeling guilty sucks and, in the head of a Type-A person, things that suck or are hard or cause pain must be good because hard work is also painful but good. Get it?
Don’t associate feeling guilty with being a good person. And don’t waste time trying to show people that you’re sorry by living with guilt. They can’t see it and they probably don’t care. Guilt is a useless emotion.
7. Feeling obligated.
You don’t always have to say “yes.”
Too many Type-A overachievers are quick to spend time with other people out of obligation. This is because Type-As are extra-sensitive to people’s needs and quick to help them fulfill their needs. After all, Type-A overachievers love to take action (see #21).
The problem is that some people will take advantage of this. They will manipulate Type-As into doing their bidding by acting disappointed, sad, or helpless. Don’t take the bait. By responding to this kind of behavior, you empower it.
The next time someone tries to make you feel obligated, simply ask them, “Do you want me to spend time with you out of obligation or genuine interest?” If someone wants you to spend time with them purely out of obligation — run.
8. Letting them see you sweat.
In college I worked as a waiter at an upscale resort during the summer. One night my manager finally gave me the busiest and more important section of the restaurant. I knew that if I did well, I would be given that section many more times in the future. So, I made sure that my manager saw me working extra hard. I walked really fast, shouted orders to the chefs and busboys, and flew around the restaurant like I was possessed. By 8PM, my manager pulled me aside and told me that another server was going to help me with my section.
Hard work, when visible, looks a lot like weakness. Type-A people should understand that hustling in public just makes you look unorganized and sloppy, not productive.
9. Having a narrow view of hard work.
Don’t just do what you’ve been doing harder and harder. You have to be creative. You have to work hard and smart.
10. Apologizing for who you are.
Never apologize for who you are or what you want. Type-A overachievers naturally want to make other people happy. Studies show this is because overachievers received a lot of positive feedback when they were young. The problem is that some of these people get addicted to positive feedback and, as result, start apologizing. They apologize to fit in or keep others from feeling bad.
Avoid this pitfall. Constantly apologizing for who you are will erode your identity. Not only will it make other people respect you less, it will make you respect yourself less. On the other hand, refusing to apologize for yourself will actually increase your self-respect. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that refusing to apologize provides several psychological benefits, including empowerment, confidence, and greater feelings of integrity and self-respect.
11. Explaining yourself.
I have a very hot and cold personality. I can be really into a project and then drop it cold and then pick it back up again and then drop it, on and on. I used to feel bad about this and try to explain my process to other people because I didn’t want to seem flighty or unreliable. Then I realized that any time spent explaining yourself is a wasted time. The truth is, most people don’t care — as long as you deliver. Those that do care and want you to explain yourself are time wasters and should be avoided.
Don’t feel like you have to defend your personal process. Just focus on getting the results you want. Results speak for themselves. Like Napoleon Hill said, “Success requires no explanations.”
12. Caring too much about what others control.
Type-As are notorious for trying to control things that other people own. When you work for someone else, guess what, everything you do belongs to them. Keep that in mind.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care; it means that you shouldn’t care past a certain point.
13. Worrying about recommendations.
Recommendations are a crutch. No one can stop you from being successful except for yourself.
I used to be live and breath for good recommendations. A good “letter” from a professor was painted as the end-all-be-all for me in college and graduate school. So I walked on eggshells and kissed up to my teachers and PIs. Or at least I tried to.
Some of them still didn’t like me. One of my college professors agreed to write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school and then, I found out years later, wrote that I was a poor candidate because of my personality. I got into my top choice anyway. In graduate school, my PI refused to write me a letter of recommendation because he didn’t like me. I got the job I wanted anyway. Let others worry about recommendations. You don’t need them.
14. Trying to make someone like you.
Nothing is more time consuming and useless than trying to get someone else to like you. A lot of Type-As really struggle with this because they’ve been conditioned to try to please everyone. News flash. Not everyone wants to be pleased. Forget about people that don’t naturally like you.
There’s 7 billion people in the world. Don’t chase the favor of few.
15. Trying to learn like others.
I hate being forced to learn in a group setting where you sit in rows or circles and have to listen to someone blather on all day about something you could learn in 10 minutes on your own. In situations like these, my go-to escape plan is to start coughing, excuse myself from the room, and find a place on a different floor to hide.
One of the most important things you can learn about yourself is how you learn. Do you learn better in groups or on your own? In the morning or the evening? By listening, writing, or teaching? A lot of overachievers limit their productivity by trying to learn like everyone else. They feel guilty (see #6) and obligated (see #7) and don’t want to miss anything (see #2). So they apologize for who they are (see #10) and waste their time trying to be someone they’re not.
16. Letting others ride you.
Type-A overachievers are the movers of the world. They like to work hard and get things done. But not everyone is like this. Some people hate hard work. Some people hate hard work and want to get ahead. These are the people you should watch out for. They are the ones that will manipulate you into working for them while taking all the credit.
If you’re a Type-A person, pay attention to the people above you. Many of them will try to jump on your back and ride you into the ground – jumping off just at the right time to steal your success. Pay attention to the people below and beside you too. Some of these people will try to hop on your coattails and share your success (even though they contributed nothing).
17. Holding others back.
Type-A people are very competitive. If channeled incorrectly — by sabotaging people, bringing others down, being negative — this can be a problem.
Every minute you spend trying to hold someone back is a minute you could be spending growing, getting better, and sharpening your own skills. You can’t move forward and hold someone back at the same time.
18. Never quitting.
Studies show that Type-A people are extra-sensitive. This means they’re extra-sensitive to loss. Overachievers hate giving up or letting things go. But some things, like bad relationships and dead end jobs, need to be let go of.
This goes for the small things too. You shouldn’t sit through every movie just because you started it. Not every book deserves to be finished.
19. Letting people down easy.
When it’s time to end something, whether it’s a job or relationship, rip it off like a bandaid and don’t be ambivalent about the future. It’s over. The end.
Slam doors behind you. Don’t leave cracks. False hope doesn’t help anyone.
20. Always taking sides.
Type-A overachievers can be insanely competitive (and loyal). This, coupled with the fact that they like to rush in and help others, makes them jump too quickly into other people’s conflicts.
The problem is that taking sides can turn you into an outlet for everyone’s negative energy. This is especially true when taking the side of a friend in the middle of a relationship spat. The next time your tempted to take sides, try just listening and showing empathy without offering any advice whatsoever.
21. Always taking action.
There’s an old proverb by Sun Tzu that goes something like, “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will come floating by.”
Type-As have a bias for action. This is good. But being one-dimensional is bad. Sometimes you have to step back and let your problems, or enemies, take care of themselves. Doing nothing or creating a void has a way of helping some obstacles self-destruct.
22. Brown nosing and being too nice.
Studies show that being too nice and giving too much when you’re getting nothing in return can eat away at your self-esteem and make you seem less valuable in other people’s eyes. Other studies show that being a little rude and defiant makes other people respect you more.
An experiment presented in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science had participants read about a bookkeeper who belligerently bent accounting rules and a visitor to an office who stormed into the break room and poured himself a cup of “employee only” coffee without asking. The participants rated the rule-breakers as more in control and powerful compared to polite people who didn’t do these things.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should be an ass, but it does mean that you shouldn’t see kissing ass as some breakthrough technique to getting ahead.
23. Getting baited into drama.
Most Type-A overachievers try to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible. This makes it very easy for other people to bait Type-As into pointless drama.
Once your attention gets sucked into an emotional conflict, it can be hard to get it back. The best way to avoid this is by seeing your attention as a treasure chest. You wouldn’t let someone you know walk into your house, gather up all of your valuables, and leave. Yet, you’ve probably let someone you know walk into your life and freely steal your attention. Stop giving away your attention and start protecting it.
24. Never causing drama.
Sometimes you have to speak up. Even if you think the argument is banal and below you. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
25. Replying too quickly.
If you get caught off guard by a negative comment or bitchy email, don’t jump the gun and reply right away. Relax. Take a step back. Let things marinate for a bit.
26. Trying to make critics happier than clients.
Your clients are the ones paying your salary and pushing your business forward, not the industry elites. Don’t waste a single second trying to fit into some imaginary upper echelon of your particular field.
Focus on your customers and your numbers. Cater to them only. This will grow your business and growing businesses get noticed, not cries for acceptance.
27. Trying to make every client happy.
This is impossible. Don’t be afraid to let go of some clients. Don’t be afraid to fire your worst, time-sucking clients. Remember, you can’t force everyone to like you (see #14) and getting one bad review is not he end of the world (see #13).
28. Talking in silence.
I work with a lot of Chinese and Japanese businessmen and I love it because in big negotiations they will sit back and be absolutely silent while the people on the other side of the table talk and talk and talk trying to fill the silence.
The next time you’re in the middle of a seemingly uncomfortable silence, instead of blabbing and trying to explain your position (see #11), just sit back, relax, and craft a great question to ask.
29. Ignoring body language.
In graduate school there were a couple of people in my lab who were completely blind to body language. They were Type-A overachievers so consumed with what they had to do next and getting the answer they wanted that they were oblivious to everything else. It didn’t matter if I had head phones in, was typing a million miles a minute, and looking in the opposite — they found a way to get my attention. But I cut them some slack because I used to do the exact same thing to my PI.
The next time you’re in a hurry to get a response, ask yourself this: “When will my audience be most receptive to me?” not “When is the best time for me to get my answer?”
30. Paying too much for things.
Higher price doesn’t always mean higher quality. Inflating the price of something to increase demand is a marketing trick that a lot of Type-As fall for because it’s in their overachieving nature to want the best, and they see price as a shortcut to finding the best.
31. Giving a little extra.
Type-As should spend less time trying to give a little extra and more time trying to give a little less.
Studies out of the University of Chicago showed that a person giving a $45 scarf as a gift is seen as more generous than one giving a $55 coat, and, an overfilled ice cream serving with 7oz of ice cream is seen as more valuable than an underfilled serving with 8oz of ice cream. The studies also showed that a dish set containing 24 intact pieces is seen as more valuable than one with 31 pieces (including the same intact 24) plus a few chipped ones.
More is not always better. Presentation often matters more than amount or even quality.
32. Overprotecting ideas.
I hate when people tell you that they are working on a really great idea for a business and then, when you take the bait and ask them about it, say, “Well, I can’t tell you about it just yet.”
Relax, no one wants to steal your idea. Ideas are commodities. And being overly protective of your idea makes you look like an amateur. The limiting factor for your success is action, not ideas.
33. Never asking for feedback.
Overachievers have an overabundance of great ideas. The problem with this is that Type-As can get stuck into thinking that they are the only ones with great ideas.
Listen to other people’s ideas. Share your ideas. Ask for advice. All growth requires feedback.
Are you a little (or a lot) Type-A? What is one piece of advice that you would give to other Type-A overachievers?
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