Was I An Overachiever or Really Just Trying to Prove My Worth?

“I spend an insane amount of time wondering if I’m doing it right. At some point I just remind myself that I’m doing my best. That is enough.” ~Myleik Teele

Just one more client. Just one more call. Just one more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Then, maybe, just maybe, I will feel validated. Worthy. Appreciated.

That’s how success works, right? Everyone has to like you, think you’re amazing, and recognize all of your hard work for you to be successful? I learned the hard way that this is the path to overwhelm, burnout, and a massive anxiety disorder. Because, you have to grind it out for that business; forget your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Let’s not scapegoat my business, however; my lack of self-worth started years, decades even before I opened my former company.

As the oldest of three, I was expected to achieve.

In middle school, I played competitively on an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team. I remember never feeling good enough, tying my self-worth up in what my coach thought of me, if our team won or not, or if I scored a certain number of points. Something I loved became something I despised.

Playing basketball in high school left me feeling empty and like fraud. If I wasn’t the best, who was I? The performative pressure was suffocating.

The overachiever in me was never satisfied, never okay with mediocre.

In high school, I took the SAT three times to earn the scholarship I needed to pay for most of my education. I got into the top state schools and even some private colleges. I couldn’t apply to just one. I had to apply to just one more.

With each letter of acceptance, I felt validated. Like I actually belonged and that my life held meaning. Maybe then, when I got into my dream school, I would be worthy, and all of this anxiety would be worth it.

“Where are you going in the fall”? I remember not knowing how to answer that question.

Wanting to go to college and actually going were two very different things.

My parents sent me to a private college prep school, where we were practically reading through course catalogs freshman year. I thought it was something that was next in the sequence of achievements.

On the way home from a college tour in the spring, my mom told me I had to pay for room and board. I just had to figure out how. I ended up staying in my hometown and going to community college, which was a blow to my eighteen-year-old ego. I was devastated, angry with my parents, and frustrated about all the hard work I had put in with nothing to show for it.

My self-worth was in the tank; my need to prove myself was at an all-time high. So was that constant, chirping companion, anxiety.

After two years of community college, I transferred to a state college and chose education as my major. I wanted to be a leader, a catalyst for change, a visionary. I made the Dean’s list, worked my way through college, and even got married.

After I graduated, I taught physical education and was also athletic director of a grade school. I believed that by using my degree I worked so hard for, I would finally be happy and fulfilled. Instead, the position came with a principal who gaslit and bullied me daily, at the time taking away any joy that I had in my chosen field. But I had worked so hard for this. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Working hard was always a badge of honor I wore proudly; more accolades from others to put into the validation tank. All the while, I never felt worthy. As the things I’d worked so hard for were taken away from me, I began to wonder if success was even in the cards.

I felt lost. Undeserving. I was focused on my first year of marriage, teaching, and working on extended family relationships. Would I ever be accepted?

If I tried hard enough, they would like me, the overachiever in me believed.

But wait, was I really an overachiever? Maybe it was something deeper?

Was I just addicted to working hard because I was trying to prove my worth and gain approval?

With a full-blown anxiety disorder, depression, a drinking problem, and zero boundaries, I entered my thirties thinking that if I just made it in business, I would be whole.

What a crock.

The patriarchal standards I had tried to measure up to, were the same ones holding me back from living a life of peace. If I just, “hustled,” and “grinded,” despite the effects on my mental, emotional, and physical health, I could finally prove my worth. All that ended up proving was that mental health matters. My work is not my worthiness.

So how did I go from codependent thinking and seeking validation outside of myself to understanding that we are all born worthy?

First, I had to decide what really lights me up like a firecracker. Passion, playfulness, and purpose are lost when you were trained to look outside yourself for validation.

I’d spent my life focused on achievement. What did “success” even mean? It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I realized success, to me, means freedom, and freedom meant letting go.

I had to then get radically honest with myself about my upbringing, my relationships with family members, my belief system, and what I wanted out of life.

Did I really want to run the service-based business I’d started after I quit my teaching job, with several employees, ongoing calls and emails, that had me working holidays, nights, and weekends, and that left me in a people-pleasing tailspin on a regular basis?

My honest answer: No.

Relief washed over me. Not regret, longing, or sadness.

Relief.

I then realized I needed to let go of people-pleasing, overachieving, and the need for external validation in other aspects of my life, which meant doing some radical boundary setting and self-reflection.

Looking back through my years of wearing my hard work in school as a badge of honor, drowning in my former business like a sacrificial lamb, and navigating the sometimes-chaotic waters of a new marriage and family, I can finally understand that my worthiness doesn’t come from others. I am good enough as I am. My oneness comes from within, not from outside accolades.

Getting to the root cause of the unworthiness, worry, and workaholism was a deep dive into my childhood and young adulthood. I realized I carried toxic shame and guilt and believed that if I was just “enough,” I would be able to finally be free.

Turns out, the complete opposite is true. Chasing becomes all-encompassing. I had been treading water; doggie-paddling, not knowing that the pool of people-pleasing I was swimming in was keeping me stuck.

These days, creating takes the place of hard work, clarity takes the place of drinking to cope, and self-compassion takes the place of validation-seeking to prove my worth. And that toxic friend named Anxiety? She still likes to show up unannounced, but I have the self-acceptance and healthy internal dialogue to keep our interactions short.

Take it from this former overachiever: You are worth more than your work and your accomplishments. Just one more client? Just one more call? Not anymore. Now I just choose freedom.

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