4 Hidden Struggles of High Achievers and How To Overcome Them

Everyone seems to look up to high achievers. High achievers have a lot of admirable qualities. But, little do they know that high achievement does not make people immune to struggles, challenges, and qualities that hold them back the most.

We have all struggles in life. But do you know the hidden struggles that most high achievers face silently all their lives? From the outside, they all look charismatic and successful, and everyone wants to copy them, but on the inside, they all grapple with these 4 hidden demons.

I am willing to bet that, if you are a high achiever, at some point in your life there has been a belief or a feeling on this list that has shown up.

They Fear Losing Everything

We all fear losing someone or something we dearly hold onto, and high achievers are no different. But, for high achievers, this loss is very prominent around losing all the hard-earned things and prized possessions – their fancy and luxe designations, public recognition, bank accounts, social status, etc. Because they feel they’ve worked hard all their life, this loss can be prominent and quite paralyzing – “What if it all goes away?”

Mental health practitioners and psychology professionals have spent years studying the psychology of high achievers, and this hidden challenge features top on their list.

They Become Their Results

As we engage more in our worlds, we associate ourselves with one or more identities – a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, an older brother, the youngest sibling, a leader, a business owner, a consultant, a teacher, an expert, and so on. Our job designations and educational qualifications also become a part of our identities. Every single time I ask my coaching clients what they do, their response somewhat starts like this, “I am a Vice President of …,” or, “I am a Global Delivery Head at …” 

For high achievers, this becomes both an identity and a mindset. It eventually becomes their way of being. There is a consistent need to prove themselves and a hunger for positive feedback. It translates into compulsive and excessive work habits and beliefs like, “If I deliver more I’ll be more successful…,” and puts them in a state of perpetual overwhelm. For high achievers, achievement is found in the hustle and grind.

They Chase External Goals

As a consequence of the two struggles previously mentioned, high achievers become more attached to goals that are based on someone else’s ‘should.’ Perpetually burdened under a constricted pattern of expectations from society, family, and oneself, they often find themselves hustling and chasing, gauging themselves against other people and societal scorecards. 

They become hamsters on a wheel – constantly chasing new shiny goals. They are wired to believe that success is an accumulation of fancy goals and achievements.

They Fear Success

The very thing that fuels up their adrenaline, is also categorically what high achievers fear the most – they fear success. With everything that they have created, gathered, and achieved, there is a greater pressure to keep up that level of accomplishment.

Psychologists also refer to this as ‘success anxiety,’ or ‘success phobia.’ Counter to the success-driven DNA that high achievers are made up of, their emotional side fears making sacrifices and anticipating how other people will react to their triumphs. There is a constant tussle between the need for success and the fear of success. Byproducts of this phenomenon include the imposter syndrome and having perfectionist standards.

What To Do Instead?

By this time, you could very well be nodding your head, associating yourself with one or more patterns that I have mentioned above. Being a high-achiever myself, I do very well understand that these patterns can be very sticky. For many long years, I was totally unaware of these struggles as they silently gnawed at me. But knowing and applying what I know now, there are a few solutions to choose from going forward. These are also some of the first steps I take when helping high achievers work on their struggles.

Choose to Seek Inspiration vs Working From a Place of Motivation And Willpower

We all have grown up in a culture of pursuing something. We are all conditioned to believe in the pursuit of our goals, in the pursuit of our success, in the pursuit of earning more money, and eventually in pursuit of our happiness. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals, but society has tricked us into thinking that they are the goals that we should have or we need to have. They are created by an unhappy and insecure world that we live in. And in an effort to chase these goals, high achievers end up attaching their self-worth and happiness to a vague and obscure point in the future. 

This fast tracks exhaustion, burnout, and resentment, more than any achievement whatsoever. It constantly derives itself from extensive use of motivation and willpower, both of which are limited and often external. It makes you to try and reach out for everything so hard. 

Rather than living in the constant pursuit of the next big thing, decide to work toward something that is true to you. When you are able to do that, you magically tap into your inner source of inspiration, courage, and commitment to follow through with aligned action. This is what matters.

Marinate Yourself in Your Gains

High achievers never seem to rest. Once they accomplish a goal or a target, they immediately set their sight onto the next one. They are constantly on this endless chase of more – more bigger and more better. There are two problems with this approach. The first being this chase is endless and it will slowly drive you crazy. The second is that it makes any form of progress a letdown. It results in a life of frustration, guilt, low self-esteem, and even depression. 

The Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley said, “the day you stop racing is the day you win the race.” The key is to take recognition and pleasure for everything you have achieved so far – all the progress and gains you have made since where you first started. Value your failures and create lessons from them. 

When you’re on this hedonic treadmill, your mind is always focused on what you don’t have and that’s a recipe for unhappiness. When you marinate yourself in what you have achieved, you begin to shift your perspective to focus on the pleasure of achievement and progress rather than focusing on the unreachable aspects of your life. Try to find the balance between your ambition and gratitude for what you already have.

Remember to Slow Down

Another aspect that is closely related to the former one is the idea to slow down. As high achievers, you’ve fallen prey to the hustle culture. You have bought into the idea that it’s cool to be ‘always-on’ and ‘always-racing.’ 

Nona Walia, the author of The Art of Mental Toughness, argues that 2022 will bring in a new work-life pattern for well-being. In this Entrepreneur article, she puts her case, nicknamed ‘The Rise Of Anti-hustle Culture,’ for a new culture that values inner well-being and health over the glamour of overwork and grinds. 

A University of London study showed that 3 days immersed in nature increases performance on creativity and problem-solving by 50%. That’s actually slowing down until you come to a complete stop. 

We’ve trained our minds to believe that productivity equates hustle and hard work. But when you actually stop and slow down, your mental performance improves. You feel restored, healthier, and more creative. 

Remember, you’re not only good when you’re busy. You’re good all of the time, even when you’re doing absolutely nothing.

Success is a Roller coaster Ride

Most high achievers have this mistaken notion that success is often an uphill climb, with an occasional plateau on the way. For most parts of the journey, you’re only going to climb. Unfortunately, this is untrue. Success is not just an up-ride. It is a lot more like a rollercoaster ride where there are many twists and turns, steep inclines and descents, and sharp curves with sudden changes of speed. 

Rather than trying to fight it, you simply got to sit your butt down, secure your loose clothing and jewelry, pull the lap bar down and enjoy the ride. There could be twice as many descents as climbs on your roller coaster ride because everyone’s ride is unique. 

And with each twist and turn, you get an opportunity to stop trying to solve your current problems and start focusing on how you can take on even bigger problems. You get a chance to put at risk your current success by doing the things you’d never do or stop doing the things you always do.

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