Recovery for Super-Achievers

Nov 16, 2021 | Burnout, Identity, Thriving

To a super-achiever, the world can look like a series of tasks to check off, finish lines to cross, mountains to surmount. Seeing the universe through this lens has real benefits: being a go-getter and motivated to excel is highly rewarded in our society. It’s no accident I became a physician.

Today I’m highly aware of the drawbacks of living by the super-achiever playbook. Focusing so intensely on the result that I miss experiencing the journey. No true downtime. Going and going and going, then dropping from exhaustion.

I’m coming face-to-face with my super-achiever tendencies this month. I’ve signed up for a 5K road race on Thanksgiving morning. It’s my first in 20 plus years. Being busy raising children and a knee injury restricted my exercise to walking. An empty nest and the pandemic inspired me to find virtual physical therapy and a chance to run again. My espoused goal for this 5K is finishing—as in crossing the finish line whether jogging, walking, or crawling.

But regardless of what I say, if I don’t watch out, my habitual playbook will take over. I’ll find myself aiming not just to finish but to run the whole race in less than 30 minutes or at a certain pace. If I’m not careful, I’ll start off too fast or try to keep up with the 30-year-olds.

What will it take for me to run (or walk) at a pace that is healthy for my body AND be satisfied with my effort? I’m thinking it’s about:

  • Awareness, especially about the downsides of the super-achiever playbook
  • A new, kinder goal
  • Accountability: my intention and commitment

Awareness is what led me to write this piece. If I don’t let what I know surface, I risk injury.

A new goal: how about paying attention, being kind to my body, and enjoying the experience of the race itself?

Accountability is the commitment I make when I share my awareness and my new goal with others.

So I’m committing here and now that my goal is not achieving a specific time or pace or winning a metal for my age group. My goal is to be present with myself in an experience that I’ve really missed over the past two decades.

It strikes me that this process of awareness, new goal, and accountability, is coaching—looking deeper for the goals that connect with my core values (living life not floating through it, compassion for myself and others), goals that are more precious to me than the ones I unthinkingly chase. The process doesn’t guarantee I’ll change, but it gives me a chance to move away from my default trajectory.

How about you? What deep, precious goals are you overlooking while following the habitual, familiar ones? What dreams or experiences are you in danger of missing? What is it you REALLY want to achieve in your one precious life?

When your dreams feel frustratingly out of reach, let’s talk.

Photo credit: Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

[ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ]

Diane W. Shannon

MD, MPH, ACC

Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, ACC

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