Are you extremely driven? Does achieving success trump everything else?
Most of my coaching clients are overachievers. Most are business owners and top executives who get coached to have more and be more. They say that self-care and their loved ones are priorities, but their lives reflect the opposite. There is misalignment between what the mind says and what the body does.
Thoughts about succeeding in their chosen endeavors occupy most waking moments. Fear and anxiety about losing what they’ve established fill their minds. Sleep becomes unattainable. Relationships around them suffer. People around them feel like they’re walking on eggshells—eager to please them, yet anticipating an outburst any time. These overachievers are chronically stressed. People around them become accomplices in maintaining their patterns.
The question is, is it really what they want? Or are they misdiagnosing their needs?
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs divided the pyramid into two categories: deficiency needs and being needs. The D-needs comprise the bottom half, where physiological needs, safety, belonging and esteem are. When these needs are adequately and truly satisfied, they fuel us to get to the B-needs zone. Being needs is where we self-actualize. This means we contribute to making actual our biggest dreams, our purpose for others and a different world.
Criticizing and comparing
For many, self-esteem seems to be constantly intertwined with competence, skills, achievements and image. This is where many of the problems begin.
We were brought up in a society where we seem to need to prove our worth and earn our place under the sun. Many parents brought their children up criticizing them and comparing them to siblings, to inspire them to be better. While many achievers are pushed to excel, the messaging we get is “If you don’t get better, you’re worthless.”
This belief is so ingrained in so many that they deprive themselves of the time to rest and relax. Relaxation is seen as laziness, and therefore a barrier to getting themselves to higher heights. If resting gets in the way of them earning their worth, then it becomes threatening. Many would experience this restlessness as feeling like “I must do something.” Some experience the pent-up energy at a higher intensity, and it becomes stress or anxiety.
The problem with this is that it’s never-ending. The race to earn our worth will never end because it’s not something that should be earned in the first place. We were all born valuable and worthwhile, even if we weren’t self-sufficient. Babies are precious without needing to do anything.
Once I talk about this, many of my coachees seem to understand cognitively, yet can’t feel this in their body. They don’t feel worthy deep down. “How do I do that?” they ask.
And the answer is, “Believe your worth is unconditional.” This means that no matter how good or bad one is at something, it doesn’t impact one’s worth as a human being. It is so simple, yet difficult for someone who has had the opposite messaging ingrained in their mind and body. While it can be done with one simple step, sometimes it’s a gradual process for people to get there.
The following are ways to bring one closer to self-esteem:
Do what’s counterintuitive. If your programming is what causes stress, doing what’s intuitive, like working more, will compound the problem. Fight what’s normal and stretch into unexplored territory: Do not do anything productive. Keep still, stay away from your gadgets, be with nature, spend time with loved ones. Do not talk about work.
Notice what emerges. Observe thoughts and emotions that emerge when you go against your routines. All of these are feedback and information on what’s happening in the background.
Deal with it. Whether it’s shame or guilt or fear, just be with it. Stay curious instead of leaning into judgement. If you’re compelled to take action, stop. Write about it, or process it with someone unbiased.
Believe. Say yes to the idea that you are valuable no matter what. Some people need to say it repeatedly until it begins to make sense.
Fake it till you make it. If it is absolutely foreign, pretend. Pretend that you love yourself unconditionally, like you would a baby or a pet. What if you could do no wrong? How would you treat yourself?
After doing this, the compulsive need to keep working would probably lower substantially. It won’t make you lazy, as many fear. Have a positive vision that drives you to want to excel, this time coming from fullness instead of a lack of it. This energy will make all the difference in who you are, what you do and how you do it. —CONTRIBUTED
The author is an executive coach and an organizational development consultant. You may reach her through email@example.com.