Accolades, A’s and Awards. Learn a new task; take on another project. If it would end in achievement, I was ready to tackle it. In fact, I racked up awards—and assignments—with ease. Before I go any further, let me just preface this post with an admission: I’m addicted to achievement. Well, at least I was. Currently I’m in recovery.
Now, on the surface this trait doesn’t seem so bad. A girl with such grit might even be considered a go-getter. One who’s really “going places.” I even garnered these labels for myself. In a culture that commends hurry and hustle, these often overextended states receive more applause than they do disapproval. Besides, addictions to alcohol and slandering our co-workers are really what we should be concerned with. Right? But what seems commendable on the surface could actually cause just as much harm.
Remember how I said I’m addicted to success? Well, that’s just what it looks like on the surface. Once I really started to inspect my own intentions, I began to see a different theme emerge. Suddenly, I didn’t see someone with an addiction to achievement—I saw someone with a fear of not measuring up.
How about you? Have you ever inspected your life to see if you’re performing for acceptance rather than pleasure? The answer might not be as obvious as you think, so before moving on, I suggest taking an inventory of yourself. I designed these signs and questions to help you in the process.
Signs you may be an achievement addict
- You may deal with anxiety. Anxiety can come from a lot of sources, and I think an unhealthy level of striving is one of them. Feeling the need to always accomplish more (and fearing what happens if you don’t) puts an unnecessary amount of stress on your mind and body. Personally, my pulse still rises when I start working on a project. Why? Fear of failing. Fear of rejection. Fear of not measuring up. All of these underlying fears are the best kind of fuel for anxiety.
- You have difficulty celebrating any achievement. One goal is great, but I have to do something greater. If you are unable to celebrate small steps and successful accomplishments, your high-achieving mentality might be teetering on the edge of unhealthiness. Can I share a piece of advice that I personally follow? This comes straight from the mouth of my mom. The devil will drive you; God will lead you. If you’re lacking peace in your daily grind, it’s probably not from God.
- You may suffer from chronic stress-related symptoms in your body. Pursuing achievements for the wrong reasons can put an undue amount of stress on your body. This might result from staying up late to get more done, not exercising because you’re constantly working, or just constantly worrying that you’re not doing enough. Chronic stress can manifest itself in your body in various forms including gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, frequent headaches, teeth grinding, heart palpitations, etc.
Now read through these questions and answer them as honestly as you can.
- Do you frequently take on more than you can handle—why?
- How do you feel about yourself when you’re not working?
- How do you feel about yourself when you fail?
- Are you able to celebrate success?
- Are you able to rest?
I just love to learn! That was my explanation (ahem—excuse) for taking on more than I really needed to. The “information aficionado” in me just wanted more wisdom! Really, what I lacked in self-worth I was making up for in self-improvement. At my core, I just didn’t feel like I was measuring up. So what did I do? I put on a generous coating of pretty icing to cover up my inadequacies. That icing was all my achievements.
You know those moments when you wish someone would’ve just told you the uncomfortable news earlier on? Like when you finally find that smear of mascara under your eye *after* you’ve just spent an hour at dinner with your friend? Well, I spent a lot of time unnecessarily striving for success before I realized what I was doing. I strived until I could see straight. I strived until it made me sick. Although I’m still tempted to take on more tasks, I finally see this driving desire for what it really is. A cover up for inadequacy. I spent a lot of time striving for my self-worth, but I don’t want you to do the same.
So with that said, dear high-achieving friend, here are three things I think you need to hear.
Your worth isn’t found in what you do.
Have you ever worn a pair of high heels for an entire day? I mean, yeah, you look good, but dang do your feet start to hurt. You try to keep them on for as long as you can because they look so sleek, but when you finally trade them for your comfy tennis shoes it’s such a relief. Well, realizing you don’t have to work to earn your value is kind of like that. Yes, you might look more polished in your pair of pumps, but don’t you feel so much better when you just relax and let your feet function how they were made to? Hopefully hearing a statement like, “your worth isn’t found in what you do,” has that kind of effect.
If you’re still not settling into this truth, let me try to rephrase it a different way. If you never achieve anything, you are still valuable. You are valuable simply because God says you are. Perhaps accepting these statements seems so hard since many of us have spent our life desperately trying to discover our “calling”. This pursuit is no surprise since we begin to field the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” almost as soon as we can talk. So much time is spent determining what we are supposed to DO that we fail to address something even more important—who we are supposed to BE. This objective is actually what God is more concerned with. He cares far more about who you are becoming than what you are doing. Take a look at this passage from Titus:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-6 (ESV)
If you’ve been running around in a state of discomfort trying to look accomplished and keep up appearances—hopefully you just let out a sigh of relief. God did not save you because of the worthiness of your works, he saved you purely out of the goodness of his grace. If we didn’t need to strive for our approval then, we certainly shouldn’t have to now. If you want to strive for something, strive to live a life like Jesus. I was so convinced that I needed to do something to earn my value. I was certain God would be disappointed if I didn’t do enough for him. I forgot that my first priority is to just worship him. Your worthiness will never come from your work, so it’s OK to cut yourself a little slack.
You are not missing anything.
If I just read this self-help book. If I just listen to this podcast. Do you ever feel like you’re just one piece of content away from perfecting your flaws? This is it! I would have that feeling every time I held a new book in my hands. This will help me feel more fulfilled. If you always feel like you’re lacking something, you may have overlooked one very important scripture.
Sister, if you are in Christ, you have been brought to fullness and you lack nothing! I know it doesn’t feel like it at times, but if you are in Christ then his spirit dwells in you and gives you everything you need for this life. Let me share with you one of my favorite scriptures.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3 (ESV)
You’re not as incomplete as you think. If you have accepted Christ, his spirit dwells in you—fully, not partially. What does this mean for the believer? We have a helper. We have a counselor. We have one who makes up for our weaknesses and fills us with what we lack. When we are weak, he is strong. When we don’t know what to do, he leads us in the way of life.
Don’t count your weaknesses as a disqualification, count them as room for God’s power to move.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
It’s OK to rest. Really.
“The problem with chasing achievement is that it leaves you with only two options: be enslaved to ever-increasing demands to succeed (because you never actually “arrive”) or give up in defeat.” Ruth Chou-Simons
Hustle harder. Work longer. You’re never going to get where you need to go unless you give it your all. When entrepreneurship is applauded and early success rewarded, feeling the need to work without rest seems like the only way to get ahead. However, let me remind you why you are on this earth. We are on this earth to bear fruit, not to make money. What kind of fruit are you bearing? Is it a life filled with peace and joy or does it look more like fear and burnout?
Have you ever considered the seven days of non-stop work that was required of the Israelites by the Egyptians? Do you know what that was called? Slavery! Have you become a slave to the hustle? Once God delivered the Israelites from this bondage he commanded them to take a break so they could worship him. This rest was considered a reward, not a punishment. Ceasing from your labor is not a sign of weakness, it is a posture of humility towards God.
“To rest is to acknowledge that we humans are limited by design. We are created for rest just as surely as we are created for labor. An inability or unwillingness to cease from our labors is a confession of unbelief, an admission that we view ourselves as creator and sustainer of our own universes.” Jen Wilkin
If work is taking away from your worship, it’s probably time to restructure your priorities.
The antidote to over-achievement
So what’s a girl to do with so much striving? I think Ruth Chou-Simons said it well in her book, When Strivings Cease:
“The antidote to our obsession with striving—and specifically, striving to outrun the shame we fear—is open arms surrendered to a Father who takes the shame meant for us and makes us worthy of forgiveness and love.”
Girl, you can continue to give it all you got or you can let God’s grace do the heavy lifting for you.
Pray: Father God I come to you in the name of Jesus and I thank you for giving me grace. God, I ask that you would forgive me for finding my worth and fulfillment in anything other than you. God I ask that you would help me to cease from my striving so that I might enter into the rest you purchased for me through the sacrifice of Jesus. God I submit to you now and I ask that your Holy Spirit would empower me to live a life of surrender over striving. As I continue forward in my week, please help me to see when I start striving so I can turn back to you. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Write: This week, instead of focusing on your shortcomings, I suggest making an effort to focus on your accomplishments. Instead of thinking about all the things that went wrong this week, think about what went right. Instead of pondering on all that you didn't accomplish, make an effort to celebrate what you did achieve. Download this sheet to help you keep track.
Replace: This week when you’re tempted to start striving, replace those thoughts with these scriptures. Click here to download and print a set of scripture cards.Read: If you’re prone to striving, I suggest reading the book When Strivings Cease by Ruth Chou Simons