Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Down Side of Achievement

The problem with being a continuous-improvement-junky is achievement. I know, that seems counter-intuitive. We want to achieve, right? We want to get better. I do. Every day I do.

Six miles? No problem!
But once I’ve achieved something it becomes a standard. So today, as I huffed and puffed through 4 miles, reminding myself that running is a habit and I’ve been slack in the habit for months, I kept thinking, “I run 6 miles. Minimum.”


Like when I swim. I swim 3000 yards. Period. No less.

How does this happen? High jumpers don’t take a month off in December, gorge themselves on Christmas cookies and eggnog and come back to the bar at 6 feet high. So why should I?

Here are three ways we self-defeat with achievement.

Expecting greatness

The best thing about expectations is that they push us to perform. I expect myself to do better. I expect myself to get up every morning. I expect sacrifice, commitment, courage. Expectations are the things we say to ourselves that make quitting “not an option.”

The problem with expectations is that they can get unrealistic pretty quickly. Expectations are built on what we know ourselves to be capable of. They ignore things like injury, illness, and disruption.

I once ran 6 miles every time I went out. Four was an easy jaunt. Now, as I said, four miles is ridiculously hard. I mean hard. Which brings me to the second way achievement can be defeating:

Achieving things is HARD.

If it were easy to run a half marathon, everyone would do it. If it were easy to get a PhD, go back to law school, move to a foreign country, run your own business, or swim the English Channel everyone would do it. But they don’t.

Those that do show a tremendous amount of courage, focus, and discipline. So why do we think, once we’ve done something that’s HARD, that we should be able to do it again? And more easily this time?

I don’t want to be afraid of hard work. I don’t want to shy away from it or take the easy way out.

That doesn’t mean I want to make things hard on myself. It means I want to earn the achievement and I’m not afraid of the work I have to put in to do it.

Said the girl huffing up the hills on mile three begging for this run to be over.

Other people don’t do this

There are millions of really talented, motivated people out there. And for every awesome contributor, citizen, and role model there are five (or more) bumps-on-a-log. People who are so caught up in the daily struggle of basic survival that they cannot see anything beyond their own self-created melodrama.

Don’t mistake this as a lack of empathy. For those people born into difficult circumstances, beset by illness or hardship, abused or degraded beyond their human limits, I have unlimited compassion. I think we all do. It’s why the rags-to-riches stories really touch us. Underdogs. Overcoming circumstance. Fighters.

Those aren’t the ones I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the ones who could do more and don’t. They just don’t. Not judging. Just saying. They could. But they don’t.

So as achievers we think, “well, I’m not that person.” Here’s what that self-defeating mantra sounds like, “at least you’re doing something.” That mantra says you don’t have to be at your best, you just have to be better than someone else.

Okay, Kasie, so what do we do about this? Glad you asked! Next week I’ll post the not-so-boo-hooey part: How to Overcome Self-Defeating Achievement. 

Until then, tell me if you’ve got some nasty inner monologue that keeps you from getting what you want. Leave a comment, let me know you were here!


  1. Not-so-boo-hooey! I love it when you make up words. I love it when I make up words. Heck, I just love words.

    As to your point...

    I am grateful you injected the compassion for others. I'm hoping that compassion gets injected for yourself and others who are "missing the mark."

    Don't get me wrong. I can be competitive, but I strive to be collaborative. With that the only comparisons are to myself and my own goals...but the encouragement is for all within earshot of my voice.

    I don't think that is any different that what I've seen you do in 'real' life. [And how's this for doing what I just said not to do?] And I might even add that your execution is more deft than my own many times.

    Look forward to Part II

    1. Hey, Lori, always glad to see you on Clemson Road!

      This post was inspired by what I sometimes realize are my own over-inflated expectations of myself. While I rarely extend that judgment to others, I have caught myself comparing my efforts to others'. It is a way of letting myself off the hook. Hence, the "down side."

      As you strive for collaboration, I strive for compassion. I try -- really try -- to show compassion for others (rarely myself). It isn't a natural response for me, so I work at it.

      Always glad to converse with you, my friend. Thanks for the support!

  2. Wow! I do have a running inner monologue which seems to be ringing in my ears more and more often these days and your blog just brought it home to me. What I hear in my head is "well Sam, what is keeping you from achieving your own personal autonomy? What are you afraid of?" I have to say when this inner monologue wakes me up at night I am ashamed of myself for the weakness I have displayed. I hope I am able to step up and catch the ball which I know is headed my way and run as fast and as hard as I can to reach my goal of personal autonomy. Thank you for a well written and inspirational blog! As always I am so proud of you.

    1. Thanks, mom, as always for stopping by and adding encouragement. I know it can be tough to reach for what you want. The second question after "what's stopping me?" is "if not now, when?" Sometimes timing matters.

      Love you!

  3. A great post! I'm looking forward to part 2 :) Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  4. Aww, that was the sweetest comment from your mom. I try really hard to keep my mother out of my on-line life...nothing but criticism, so very, very lucky you. One sweet friend of mine, who recognises my constant self-defeating drive for perfection, tied a red string around my wrist to make me forgive myself for not being perfect 100% of the time. It really helps.

    1. Thanks for coming by, Veronica. I am lucky. My mom is a GREAT cheerleader. As for the friend and the red string, I have a friend helpful enough to remind me to be kind to myself, too. Unfortunately, we moved away from him in May. Maybe I should ask him for a string to act on his behalf.


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