"Overachievers" are overrated; better off to be high performer

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You wouldn't normally think, especially at Carnegie Mellon, that it’s possible to “exceed” a workload. However, even here, there are students who apparently work more than their share — the overachievers. The term “overachiever” is typically said in jest or mockery, with an underlying tone of mixed admiration and envy.

An example of the overachiever is the student with a double major and triple minor, participation in two sports teams and casual mastery of an instrument, or leadership in a sorority while organizing a dance team and studying for a BXA degree. The term, according to common understanding of it, essentially covers the majority of the Carnegie Mellon population. However, most students don’t consider themselves overachievers.

In fact, there is a distinct sense of jealousy associated with the word. When we witness another student’s overwhelming success and teasingly call them an overachiever, we tend to feel a slight accompanying sense of guilt or inferiority. This may be because these “overachievers” remind us of our own shortcomings and lack of perfection that they seem to possess.

However, lesser known are the downsides to being an overachiever and the difference between being an overachiever and a "high performer.” Overachievers are reputed to be very productive, but they are excessively single-minded. They tend to be too eager to please, and to have anxiety and an acute fear of failure. They try to achieve perfection, and when that proves impossible, self-esteem problems can lead to stress or distaste for their work. On the other hand, high performers aim for excellence in a strategic way, so as to achieve it without working more than necessary.

At Carnegie Mellon, "overachiever" is normally used as a joke, or even a veiled compliment, to describe someone who works excessively hard. However, good grades or participation in numerous activities don’t necessarily qualify someone to be an overachiever. If a student achieves their desired goals while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, then the term becomes untruthful. That student is not an overachiever, but the most admirable kind of achiever: someone who successfully handles their classes, extracurricular interests, and health at the same time.

At this notoriously challenging university, the danger lies more often in becoming an overachiever than an underachiever. Only a few students manage to acquire that delicate balance of success and sanity that is the true challenge of Carnegie Mellon.