Case Study: The Perils of Overachieving

Most of the women we consult and train are high achievers--capable, accomplished, and driven to succeed. But what happens when high-achieving behaviors turn into overachieving behaviors?

You might be thinking, well, it’s one thing to hit targets and excel, but why stop there? Why not exceed targets and consistently over-deliver to keep your “brand promise” polished and visible, ready for the next rung on the ladder? 

But here’s the rub: Many overachieving, amazingly talented women grapple in some measure with two things:

  1. The imposter syndrome. They believe they don’t deserve to be where they are because of some inadequacy (credential, education, years experience, personality, etc.).

  2. The doormat syndrome. They believe they just need to keep saying yes, and over delivering without asking for anything in return. Someone will someday recognize their value and hoist them up the ladder and crown them with the title and compensation they deserve.

Overachieving suppresses the imposter syndrome for a time —sometimes years and years. But couple overachieving with the doormat syndrome and that brand promise becomes invisible.
Case in point: A client of mine, let’s call her Anna, worked for many, many years in a management role and department that enjoyed immense autonomy. Despite the fact that her budget was small and her requests for additional staff and resources were consistently turned down, she continued to pull the rabbit out of the hat and make things work. And of course, she never set her "influence" in motion. She definitely never bragged.

On top of that, she declined opportunities for advancement and leadership in the organization because the department she ran was “her baby” and she loved her staff, loved the problems they routinely solved, and loved the accolades her clients bestowed on her and her staff.
Anna was a magician--great at negotiating for others, terrible at negotiating for herself. (This has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?).

And then one day she was told her department was going to be moved under the wing of a different division, and suddenly she was in trouble. The new boss had only a dim, incomplete picture of what Anna was doing; her daily activities, her accomplishments, her brilliance, or her usefulness to the vision and goals of the division were all kinda murky.
While this is a work in progress, you can see where this is going, right? 

Anna now has to make her case at every turn. She has to pull forward the hard work of many years into a coherent narrative that demonstrates her present and future value for the new boss/department. She has to network and influence for her own benefit, and for the benefit of her staff. And because autonomy is like air to her, she’s going to have to establish and reinforce new boundaries without sacrificing collaboration and contribution to the new vision.
How do you do all that when you’ve spent years overachieving and asking for nothing in return? What do you do when you know the doormat needs to be ripped out from under you?
This is what educators and gurus call “the teachable moment.”

An unplanned event with huge personal and professional development possibilities. Anna has had the “aha” moment and now that she’s awake, she has to lean into her daily opportunities to negotiate, not away from them, or she risks, well, everything.