Published in the Rains County Leader on October 23, 2018:
According to Google, an overachiever is someone who performs better or achieves more success than expected. The assumption is that this person achieves these results through excessive effort. The definition may be correct, but I know from personal experience that the assumption is not necessarily true.
I made very good grades in school, and some would even say I was an overachiever – but it wasn’t because of excessive effort. I listened and took notes in class – which I realize might be considered excessive effort to some. I also took books home every night, but unless I had written homework to complete, I rarely opened them. The truth is that I had an excellent memory, and I could retain the needed information long enough to ace the test.
The results of being an overachiever can be good and bad. My parents were always happy with my report cards, but since straight A’s were the norm, I was never offered special incentives for raising my grades. My good performance also made me popular with my teachers. Not so much with my fellow students. I was often labeled the teacher’s pet, and when I walked into a classroom, I was more likely to be met with groans than invitations to come sit by someone. Some underachiever – usually a guy – would roll his eyes and quip, “There goes the curve.” (I don’t know if this practice is still in use, but back in the day, some teachers took the high grade on a test as an A and adjusted everyone’s grade accordingly.)
The overachiever thing followed me into the business world. My first job, other than baby-sitting or retail, was as a Page in the Commercial Credit Department of the First National Bank in Dallas. This was before computers were common in the normal office, so there were racks and racks of paper files. One of my jobs was to deliver files to loan officers upon request, and another was to distribute mail throughout the department. My rounds took me past the steno pool, and I decided that was my next step up the corporate ladder. When one of the women turned in her resignation, I immediately asked for her job.
Up to that point, I had only used manual typewriters, so I had to stay after hours and practice on the IBM Selectrics used in the pool. That was no problem for an overachiever, though, and I soon passed the typing test with flying colors.
It turned out that I had a natural ability to hit the right keys, especially the numbers, and I learned that the overachiever gets to do more work. I became the go-to typist for spreadsheets, and I developed chronic headaches from deciphering illegible hand-written numbers eight hours a day.
When the secretary to the head of the department resigned, I asked for her job. After brushing up on my shorthand, I moved from the tile floor to the carpet, and my future was set. While women who couldn’t type or take shorthand were becoming managers and vice presidents, I had overachieved myself into the position of executive secretary, and there was no escape. I’m not complaining. I had a good career, and by choosing small companies, I was able to expand my responsibilities to include office management and sales among other things.
Since David and I left the rat-race and moved to Emory, I have managed to leave my overachieving ways behind me – mostly. It’s true that my retirement soon took on a semi-retirement status as I accepted a part-time job at Believers’ Baptist, published two books, and became a correspondent for the Leader. But I do those jobs on my own schedule and at my own pace. I discovered recently, though, that old habits die hard and that overachievement can hurt you.
Most of you know that I had rotator cuff surgery in mid-August, and I’ve been in physical therapy since about one week post-op. At first, it was simple stretches to help regain range of motion, and I was instructed to do the exercises at home twice a day. Of course, I followed instructions, and I improved quickly. Every few sessions, the exercises would increase, either in repetitions or intensity, and I kept up.
After six weeks, I was released from the sling and received the okay to begin mild strengthening exercises. Mild is a relative term in physical therapy, and my sessions got longer until I’m now spending over an hour in each session. I continued to improve, regaining almost complete range of motion and getting stronger all the time. But my shoulder continued to be sore. I mentioned it to Paul a time or two, but I attributed it to some new movement that I had done. Then, last week he asked his usual question about how I had been doing since my last session.
“Okay, but I’m still sore – and two hours a day is a lot. I don’t always get it done.”
He looked at me with raised eyebrows and said, “You’re not doing this whole routine at home, are you?”
“I guess you’re just an overachiever,” he said.
Seems like I’m just supposed to do the stretches at home and do the weights there. No permanent harm done, but it’s a lot easier to find time for a couple of fifteen minute sessions than a couple of hours. Once again, I’ll try to hang up by overachiever shoes. But at my age, it may be too late!