Advice comes in different forms. It can come as instruction given by a teacher knowledgeable in a specific area. It comes as shared experience from a person who’s navigated the path and offers an outline for success. It may also come in a list of do’s and don’ts, given by a person whose life is spent checking those particular boxes. Each method serves a purpose, and all of them have the potential to encourage and offer hope. But for the classic overachiever, this accumulation of advice can become a hindrance rather than a help. At some point it begins to pile up, like the proverbial straws on the camel’s back, and stops progress altogether.
Being an overachiever myself, I’ve experienced this type of overload, especially with my writing. The paralysis I’ve experienced in the midst of pursuing my dream has nearly derailed it. I wanted to find an antidote to the problem before it was too late, so I looked up the reasons for my reactions and finally began to understand my struggle.
1. Overachievers set unrealistic goals for themselves.
2. They are perfectionists.
3. Overachievers are obsessive about accomplishing tasks.
4. They need to be acknowledged and appreciated.
5. They don’t cope with failure well.
6. They run a high risk of burnout.*
Do you see the pattern? The advice I get turns into goals to be met or tasks to be accomplished, and each one must be done to perfection. When perfection isn’t achieved and the effort isn’t recognized, the sense of failure sets in. Fear of failure places more emphasis on the need to be perfect—which no one is—which then leads to feelings of discouragement and burnout.
Writers write. That’s what all the experts say. But writers must also live. I had to find a way to manage both before I lost my dream for good.
The solution actually came from my mom, who is not a writer but is still a pretty wise lady. I was sharing with her how overwhelmed I felt in another area of life when she asked me this question: “How do you eat an elephant?”
I had no answer. I couldn’t even imagine what she was talking about until she answered the question for me: “One bite at a time.” In that riddle, I found hope. My mom reminded me that I had only to accomplish what I could for that day. There was no need, and definitely no gain, in trying to tackle everything at once.
Bestselling author Stephen King agrees with her. When asked about how he writes, he answers simply, “One word at a time.” Who knew my mom and Stephen King had so much in common? And who am I to argue with their wisdom?
As I pick up the pen from now on, I need remember only one thing. Writing is not a destination, but a journey. All I have to do is keep taking the next step.
What step are you waiting to take? Feel free to share it in the comments section.
*from Shanghai Tech Writer @ http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2008/03/06/25-characteristics-and-traits-of-overachievers/