Healthy Ambition vs. Overachievement

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

It is natural to strive to do our best, to aim high, and to challenge defeat. But at some point, for many of us, ambition and overachievement begin to vie with each other.


When overachievement wins, victory no longer tastes sweet and defeat leaves a bitter taste that’s hard to erase.

Why do the paths of these two constructs cross and conflict, and why does healthy striving often take a back seat to compulsive productivity?

To understand such complexities, let’s explore ambition vs. overachievement.

Ambition can be thought of as a hunger to learn, to do, to explore and to make things happen for a good cause and for the love of life. Overachieving is a compulsive behavior borne out of fear, shame and guilt.

The fear is of never measuring up, not having enough, not being the best; a fear of being left behind. The overachiever tends to live in dread that “there is not enough time, I’m always too late, the bus will leave without me, the well will dry up before I get there.”

The overachiever tends to avoid emotional attachments and forgoes a personal life.

“I can’t be tied down by a relationship until I do this, or achieve that; it will get in the way of my goals, I’ll miss out” (must keep up with the Joneses, must have a car like theirs, can’t miss a day’s work because I need to buy that”).

Women are susceptible to overachievement because despite women’s lib, many feel that they are the inferior sex. This can drive them to prove otherwise, to excel and to try to be better than, or at least as good as men.

This syndrome can also afflict those men who have developed inferiorities due to traumatic childhoods, or from being compared to the Joneses, for example. “I must never let my guard down or else my roof won’t be the quality of the Jones’s across the street.

“I need a bigger house, a better car, a prettier wife, smarter kids, and greener grass on my lawn. Without this, I am nothing and nobody.”

I believe that in some areas women supersede men and vice versa. Women were designed genetically for their role of managing the family, the social unit; whereas it is natural for men to defend and provide.

If we could respect these roles and the skills and the talents required to perform them, I believe that our society and our country would be even stronger and more productive. We would probably become greater than great.

I have shared some possible reasons for overachievement. Remember that who we are is not about what we have or what we can accomplish. Our worth is not measured by our achievements.

Prioritize strong values, integrity, self-respect and respect for others. Then overachievement can be a non-issue, as one is free from the fear, guilt, and shame upon which it thrives; and ambition can be enjoyed as a healthy motivator that supports exploring and making things happen for a good cause and for the love of life.

”’Dr. Gelb is a Licensed Psychologist & Attorney At Law. For more information call Dr. Gelb’s office at 943-2994 or visit her Web site at:”’