Mike shared an interesting article with me recently from Forbes magazine. The article discusses the affliction of being an “insecure overachiever” and we both stopped dead in our tracks while reading.
Essentially, an insecure overachiever is someone who THINKS they are going above and beyond for all the right reasons, but in actuality, their high-intensity work pace is motivated by fear.
Fear of not getting the job done. Fear of not doing it right. Fear of not being good enough. Ultimately, fear of being replaceable. A lack of security in one’s own value inevitably takes you down the insecure overachiever path. You’re always doing the NEXT thing to try to prove your worth.
I’m a Hollywood assistant.
What does this mean? It means that I work long, sometimes indefinite hours making sure some of the most powerful people in Hollywood have what they need to create the works of art you see on television every day. Sometimes this means a clichéd coffee run to give my exec a little liquid fuel to jump start the day. Sometimes it means organizing action-items in order of importance from “happening as we speak” to “can wait a few days.” Sometimes it means getting to take notes in writers rooms or sit in on pitches. What’s needed from day to day varies – which is partly why I like the job. It’s rarely routine. And it’s competitive.
As you can imagine, there are a ton of people trying to catch a break in Hollywood, and it makes the town highly competitive. Assistant culture is intense – the desire to climb ladders combined with the knowledge that the number of people hoping to ladder climb far outweighs the number of available positions makes for an extremely cut-throat environment. There’s a feeling of always needing to be ON in order to succeed, so when I moved to LA, I turned my switch to ON – and I didn’t turn it off.
And you want to know what? I burned the hell out. I started experiencing weird health issues, emotional extremes, and utter exhaustion.
For anyone struggling to understand their worth; for anyone who feels the need to push themselves beyond their limits on a daily basis; for anyone who feels crushed by the weight of societal pressures – I totally understand. And I want to share what I learned in hopes you can avoid the burnout I experienced.
you do not have to be the office hero
Hey, superwoman – guess what? It is not up to you to rescue everyone. This was the hardest thing for me to learn – you have to set boundaries as to how much you’re willing to help coworkers to avoid being taken advantage of. I’m not saying that it’s not okay for you to lend a hand every once in a while, but I strongly urge you to monitor how many times people come to you for help. Who are they? Do you report to them? Are the same people always looking to you to save the day? And do they reciprocate the help when you need it? When I first started my job, it was very hard for me to identify the people I was required to assist and the people who were taking advantage of my work ethic. The “insecure overachiever” in me had me trying to please and help everyone, and it was a downward spiral. If your energy is your work currency, be careful on who you choose to spend it. Remember: there’s a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. You are no good to anyone, least of all yourself, if you are run down. Identify the people to whom you report, support them to the best of your ability, and lend a hand to others when your workload allows. Which leads me to:
you have to learn to say no
I hate conflict. I will go out of my way to avoid any sort of uncomfortable confrontation. This usually means appeasing people to steer clear of any tension. It means becoming a “yes man.” I thought by saying yes to everything, I was proving myself. All I was doing was proving that I was available to serve. I wasn’t respecting my own time and energy – why should I have expected anyone else to? I’ve had to learn to say no. No – I can’t attend that event because yes, like most normal humans, I have laundry and dishes and other life things that need tending to. No – I can’t take on that project for you because I’ve already committed my time and attention to too many other things, and I need to honor those commitments first. No – I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to your question, and I’m not obligated to help you find it. It sounds harsh – I know. But sometimes we have to draw very clear boundaries for ourselves in order to protect our minds, bodies, and souls. If people can’t make you feel inferior without your consent, then they can’t run you down without it either.
delegation is a necessary skill
Because I tried to be a superwoman, I was convinced I had to do everything myself. I’m also a control freak and a bit of a perfectionist, so that didn’t help the issue. I took on everything with which I was tasked and made it my job to complete it. At one point, when my workload was extremely heavy, I was waking up at 7AM, opening my eyes, and then opening my computer. I didn’t shut either until 12:30AM. Good executives (and good executive assistants) know how to delegate tasks in an effective way to maximize efficiency. They employ qualified people and tap into their strongest skill sets. You are not bossy if you delegate. You should not lose friends if you delegate. If people resent you for delegating, they didn’t respect you in the first place. (I should add: delegating doesn’t mean you’re not doing your own work. It means you’ve prioritized what YOU need to personally tackle, and you are delegating the remaining tasks in order to complete everything in a timely manner).
At the end of the day, these are skills that come from valuing yourself and your contribution to the workplace. Showing up at work and giving the best you have is different than giving ALL you have – you shouldn’t have to be left feeling completely depleted because insecure overachiever syndrome lead you to believe that total exhaustion was the only way to prove yourself. Understand and own your value-add and others will, too.