1. They use lists. High achievers organize their thinking with lists, they organize their time with lists, and when they want to spur their creativity, the best tool they have is to force themselves out of the comfort of their list.
2. They use pharmaceuticals. Adderall is de rigueur for the high-powered jobs in high-powered cities to the point that there is a shortage of available Adderall, (and a site to monitor the shortage). Pharmaceutical frenzy is nothing new for gen-yers who used prescription drugs to get a leg up on everything. New York magazine’s ode to Xanax lets you diagnose the type of overachiever you are with the type of pharmaceutical you like best.
3. They let doors shut all the time. Overachievers know their mom was lying when she said they could be anything. So it’s not that big a deal when they see doors shut. They pick a specialty, they give stuff up to get stuff, they know adult life is about making tough choices.
4. They talk about their weaknesses. Not in a stupid way, like, “I wish I could not be so perfect.” But in a real way, because every strength comes with weaknesses and we’re not good at everything. Overachievers know they aren’t being hired for their weakness, so they let people know that they see themselves clearly by talking about weaknesses.
5. They work for free. Internships that are (illegally) unpaid, startups that are not (yet) funded, speeches and blog posts that help you do the (unavoidable) work of building your brand. These are all acceptable paths to greatness, you just need to know when it’s okay to work for free.
6. They drop out of school. Most powerful people go to the same small group of schools. For all other schools, college is a ponzi scheme. Besides, today the top-tier schools are set up to favor homeschoolers over kids who go to conventional school. And don’t even get me started on grad school: it’s so bad for your career that you’ll have to leave it off your resume.
7. They get tons of coaching. High-performers get coaching—they pay for it themselves, and their companies pay for some as well, because corporations know that high-potential employees only get to full potential with coaching. Also, people who are on their way to the top ranks enlist mentors to help them get there. (What’s the difference between a mentor and a coach? The type of access you have.)
8. They get pregnant at 25. If they’re a woman, that is. It’s clear that only a very small, anomalous group of women can have a high-powered job when they have young kids. So women should make a plan to have kids early, and then they can position themselves for a high-powered job once their kids are all grown up.
9. They come out of the closet. If they’re gay. People who are openly gay at work do better than people who hide it. Probably because, people who hide that they’re gay cannot make true connections with people at work. The photographer Jeff Sheng has done amazing work around the importance of coming out. (Most recently, his Fearless project documents overachiever athletes coming out, and the photos in this post are from that project.)
10. They don’t talk about being well-rounded. Top performers are people who focused on something to get great at it. As kids, it means they stop learning to meet national standards because the standards create mediocre learners. And as adults it means you find a specialty so you remain employable.
11. They don’t get divorced. Sure, the divorce rate is really high. But not for rich, educated parents. (Example: divorce rate among Asian college graduates is around 1%.) Divorce decreases your resources by half. But more importantly, divorce selfishly messes up the kids’ lives, and overachiever parents want to raise overachiever kids.
12. They don’t write books. The book industry is dead. They have no control over distribution channels and they have no control over author publicity, so the value publishers add in the book business is pretty much zero. Amazon so completely dominates the book industry that Forbes declared that Amazon is now ripe for disruption—they are the publishing model to beat. So for now, if you have an idea, put it in a blog. Harvard Business Review says that people who are serious about ideas are blogging.
13. They don’t let themselves get fat. The Economist reports that obesity in the US is largely something that does not affect rich, educated people, (which is consistent with research that shows good-looking people make more money.)
14. They sell out. Usually I do a post at the end of the year that’s a list of the most popular posts of the year. But it’s so bad for SEO; I wanted to write something that would resonate even at the end of next year, too. So these are links to my favorite posts this year. Disguised. I didn’t get to this one, though: It’s the post with my favorite photo of 2012.
15. They steal stuff. Overachievers know they have tons of ideas so they don’t care if people steal some of theirs. Overachievers are more likely to bend the rules to make life easier for themselves. That’s why I stole the idea for this post from Thought Catalogue.