What Do You Do When Your Achievement Disease Wasn't Good Enough?

The sign for a trophy shop - there are two matching signs, shaped like a trophy saying "trophy" down the front and then shop underneath.
Photo by akahawkeyefan on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I have always considered myself to be a high-achieving-type person. I join projects, I work hard, and I do a good job.

In the past, all this achievement was motivated by a need to prove that I deserved to be alive. If I was writing and producing plays or getting really good grades or running a club, my existence was justified (for the time being) and maybe people would want to be around me.

I was sick with the achievement disease, a ride-along illness to not feeling like you are enough.

Since then, I have gratefully learned that this is a faulty way of looking at things. While my desire to be productive hasn't really changed, I have worked pretty hard to learn that I have inherent value, regardless of what I produce.

Or so I thought. Turns out, I am fine as long as I don't hear another person talk about their own achievement disease. Then I compare the heck out of the things I accomplished while I was sick with the things they accomplished while they were sick (and maybe also the things we are both accomplishing now, for good measure). Guess what? I always manage to count it so that I never stack up.

A lot of the podcasters I listen to and writers I read are coming clean about their own achievement diseases these days. This means that our culture is becoming more aware of this as a problem, which is wonderful. It also means that I encounter this more and more often.

By the very nature of the fact that these folks have the platform of podcasts and articles with enough followers that I've heard of them, their past achievements are much flashier than mine. While I was organizing the local theatre awards show, they were organizing conferences for international thought-leaders. While I was diligently plunking out this very blog, they were publishing articles on Forbes and the BBC. While I was creating a podcast listened to by hundreds, they were on network television.

The work was similar, but the sphere and scope were very different.

And while I know - I really do know - that achieving what they did wouldn't have made me happier and that none of this makes anyone worth more than the other, I find myself feeling like my achievement disease wasn't bad enough. I could have done so much more if I had been just a little bit sicker.

Am I finding a deeper layer of not-enough-ness in my heart that I didn't know was still living there? Or am I simply butting against the practical fact that my current goals would be easier to reach if I had a bigger platform, and my platform would be bigger if I had done fancier things when I was younger, and instead of working away at it now I am spending my energy blaming my past self so I don't have to risk the failure of trying? (Of course, what is the fear of failing but the fear of not being enough?)

Well, dang. Looks like I need to give myself a hug and remind myself that every part of me is enough, including this deeper layer of insecurity. And then maybe I need to be brave and make a plan on those goals. After all, if this is the year that everything is going to work out, that includes loving each layer of myself and bringing it all to the work.


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