To the Overachievers in the Era of COVID-19

Everyone's worlds have been turned upside down in the past few months which has led to a huge shift in people's productivity. Bosses' and employees are adapting their work to be solely online, days filled with Zoom meetings are not uncommon, and everything seems to be moving slower than normal. With this new normal the message of 'not expecting a lot of yourself',  'give yourself grace', and 'just survive' have been spreading faster than COVID-19. For those of us who have had the ability to work harder, exercise more, create new things we've been told to 'stop making people feel bad' and 'take a break'. For the first time in my life, I've felt that being an overachiever is frowned upon.

I've always been an overachiever. I pushed myself to graduate high school at 16, finished college with two majors at age 20 (one of which was added for fun) and now I'm three years into a Ph.D. program in the sciences. I lead a small group, host a podcast, aim to read 52 books a year, and try to exercise 4x/week. I don't say this to promote overachievement - it comes with its costs since the potential for burnout is high. People have always been supportive of my nature to push the boundaries of my time, energy and effort - until COVID-19 hit.

My first week or so of quarantine was a period of adjustment as I began to process my new normal. However, after this time passed my overachiever habits kicked in. I set up a new exercise plan, began reading more books than ever, dedicated 40 hours of my week to work, set up walk/talk calls with friends, spent more time in bible study and prayer, applied to several conferences and prioritized science communication. I don't share this to brag but to illustrate the point that I've been my most relaxed and most productive since the start of graduate school. I acknowledge that I'm in a very fortunate position of not losing much income and having a job during this time. However, no one should be made to feel bad for accomplishing goals and making progress.

The articles encouraging people to not expect much of themselves during this time and to just 'survive' the pandemic always left a bad taste in my mouth because I'm thriving during this time. I began to question if I should be feeling worse about the situation that we've all had to deal with. There have been a few days of anxiety and on those days I'm a huge proponent of giving yourself grace when you need but most of the time when I'm feeling down I need stop feeling sorry for myself and do something. This isn't always the answer to my anxious days but getting outside of my head helps me more often than not.

Even before the pandemic, I hid my productivity and efficiency from people. When I do choose to share a personal accomplishment often I'm returned with a half-hearted 'that's great for you...'. Repeated instances of this happening has led me to hold back numerous work/personal/outreach/exercise accomplishments. No one likes to be around someone who is consistently making progress in areas of life where they also want to make progress.

Ultimately, I've had to accept that these judgments from others come down to them choosing to not celebrate in the success of others because they desire to have that success for themselves. We should strive to encourage and uplift everyone around us at all times - not just when we're feeling great about our life. When I'm in a rut in life, praising someone else's success can be hard to do but in the long run it deepens my relationship with that person, shows them I care for them at all times, and helps me see that there's more to life than just me.  Making others feel bad about their accomplishments doesn't produce good soil for a relationship to grow and instead produces bitterness and anger.

There is lot for all of us to learn during this pandemic - empathy being foremost. It's important to not judge others based off of what they are or aren't doing but instead to seek to understand them and support them no matter what.

To those of you who are overachievers, keep doing what you do! People will judge but you're not responsible for their judgments. You're responsible for your actions and your attitude and at the end of the day you have been given the capacity to handle many things at once and do great things so use that well. To those of you with overachievers in your life, encourage them and acknowledge the work they do. It means for a lot for their work to be seen.


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