15 Things overachievers do

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.

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  1. Leiralei
    Leiralei says:

    Quite enjoyed the post until you said it was ok to have ideas stolen from you.

    It’s not ok to see your ideas be incorporated into big multimillion dollar projects while you can’t afford food or dental work and only have a roof due to welfare. But then, I’m not a successful person with a rich family so I guess it’s ok to steal from me then right? It’s not like I’m a real person, I’m just a dirty bum (now, after decades of abuse and neglect).

    Oh and I should have protected my work if it was that important, even though half my papers disappeared when I was homeless so even if I could have afforded registered mail to try to protect the ideas they would have been gone by now along with my ID (stolen 3x) and other important papers. Or maybe I should have just not eaten for months at a time in order to retain a lawyer? Hah.

    I gave several ideas generously and freely, and those were used also. But the ones I asked them not to use because they were for my OWN projects, they took anyway, and somehow the evidence gets lost while I’m homeless… this is not ok. This is never ok.

    If not attribution, then reciprocity. A favor for a favor, not a theft and then be left to die.

    They didn’t even bother to take the good ideas, only the generic, plausibly-deniable ones. And I have no proof anymore so I might as well be crazy for all the good it’ll do anyone for me to complain or try to sue. It still hurts though, that they would just steal when it would have been far more of a win to work WITH me. There’s so much more where this came from.

  2. S Churchill PhD
    S Churchill PhD says:

    Truths about *real* overachievers (versus the navel-gazers who think they are OCs).

    1. Overachievers don’t need or do drugs. Drugs rarely provide neuro-enhancing benefits without paying a penalty in attention and quality of thought. If you brain is sluggish normally, you aren’t going to be an overachiever on Adderall.

    2. Overachievers finish school ahead of schedule. The national average for a 4-yr degree is now 6 years. An overachiever avoids fluff courses, loads up on useful electives, works on special projects to hone their analytical abilities and gain insight into areas of interest.

    3. Overachievers don’t necessary need kids, period. The global population increased 6-fold in the 19th century and very nearly did the same in the 20th century, with the US growing 4-fold in that period, much of it in immigrant population waves at the beginning and end of the century. Children have, for the first time in human history, become elective, not mandatory. The Dalai Lama has it rightly: life quality, not life quantity is the desired goal.

    4. Overachievers think outside the box. They don’t steal the idea of others because their well-trained and exercised minds are fertile fields for sowing new ideas and concepts, for finding solutions to Big Problems.

    5. Overachievers don’t worry about closets, or being labeled or stuffed into convenient niches. They also avoid being specialists. Specialists are a dime a dozen, requiring predominant use of one side of the brain. Overachievers use both sides of the their brain, because 2-D representation of an object or an idea won’t prevent their coneptualized world from being blindsided if they cease to understand 3-D relationship of themselves to all other things. In this way, overachievers have healthy internal and external frames of reference, and they use them to develop an understanding of cause and effect and then apply these solutions deftly.

    6. Overachievers seek out mentors, not coaches, to gain age- and experiential insight into problems that interest them.

    7. Overachievers find ways to open doors, despite barriers, often substantial. Like water, they flow around obstacles and like water, their path through life is rarely proscribed, but often enriched by unexpected turns and reversals, guided by serendipity and love of collecting information, because you never know when it comes in handy.

    8. Overachievers don’t need to talk about themselves. They don’t have big egos, they are too busy working toward goals or figuring out how to resolve pressing problems by applying unexpected approaches to problems because they see life from many angles.

    9. As overachievers gain confidence from resolving tough problems, their lists focus on what the big, unanswered questions that they think they can answer or contribute to a group think solution to that next big question.

    10. Overachievers learn to listen and listen to learn. Self absorbed people who think they are overachievers will talk all day about what they have done or are going to do. Overachievers are usually quiet on the outside because their minds are spinning ideas and connections to examine possibilities from all angles. They don’t do small talk and they really don’t care of you babble on about unimportant fluff because you are adderall addict who lovest to hear yourself speak. They will make the appropriate noises, on cue, and when they have an epiphany, it will light up their faces., but you won’t know why because they are already thinking about how to use this lightbulb moment of understanding, to it’s best purpose.

    And that is the final word on overachievers: they understand that a life lived with purpose, with thoughtful intent and an understanding that learning is lifelong and talk is cheap. Action speaks louder and in the end, that is what they will be remembered for, what they have accomplished on this short trip through life.

  3. Matthew J cote
    Matthew J cote says:


    I came here after reading TJ McCue’s article on Forbes; in fact, I skipped his article after the opening paragraphs persuaded me to do so. Now that I am here – I doubt the credibility of TJ, and I sit contemplating the values of professional America.

    Apparently, divorce, homosexuality, adderall, obesity, pregnancy, and dropping out of school factor in to the definition of over achiever. Are you Kidding Me?!?! The statistics you’ve compiled then move to dictate that over achievers don’t write books… they blog? Why not both? Why not rank the value, challenge, and breadth of those two accomplishments to see which seems more worthy of an over achiever’s attention?

    Most pseudo-professionals start a blog! So, perhaps it’s about sticking to everything you start (which then leans on the concept of a long project like a book signifying the mark of an overachiever more so than a blogger!)

    In all do respect, you’re concept of the over-achiever is way off base; in my humble opinion, over achievers never see a finish line, they always obsess over opportunity, they hyper-focus on efficiency, and they absolutely always fail at failing. Some of your points hold water, but the rest are disgraceful misjudgments.

    Just thought I’d let you know that this article has completely turned me off of your blog, your writing, and anything that TJ commended you for achieving.

    Apologies for my tone – but I am stupefied: I simply find your opinion abhorrent, short-sighted, and reckless.

  4. Kate
    Kate says:

    What a great post. Some ideas may not be PC, but are definitely realistic and great ideas for improving performance.

  5. gayathri chittiappa
    gayathri chittiappa says:

    not sure you have been sent this before – apologies if you have.

    I really enjoy your posts but sometimes I worry that you may not get the above cartoon. (I could be very wrong -that it is so obvious that you don’t mention it)

    I don’t quite know why I worry about it because I enjoy them anyway..

  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    As a student with a 4.0 and a major in Chemistry with a double minor in Applied Mathematics and Physics at a very rigorous university, I can safely say that this is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever read.

    I spend the majority of my time around other overachievers, and most of this “list” is poorly thought out.

    Have a kid at 25? Please. If you want to spend the next 20 years of your life raising that kid, go ahead. Start your career at 45, and see how that turns out (with no education, mind you, because you dropped out of school to be like Bill Gates). What a lovely retirement fund you’ll have saved up by then! (And not to mention your now grown child’s university bills).

    We don’t mind when doors shut? To hell with that! I don’t know any overachiever that doesn’t want to do just that–overachieve. If they felt completely comfortable just doing what they know they can handle, they wouldn’t be an *over*achiever–they’d be an achiever.

    Oh, and we can’t get divorced now, ’cause of course that ruins our poor little children. No, we shouldn’t teach our children to take care of themselves and to learn from our mistakes (marry someone right for you, not just anyone). We should teach our children to be miserable! Stay in that awful relationship you’re in, just torture yourself–after all, wouldn’t want to mess up your kids! My mother divorced my father when I was young. Sure I was mad at her for a while and didn’t understand, but when I was old enough to realize that my mother was completely miserable, then I understood. She LEFT to raise us right. She didn’t STAY to raise us right. After all, what kind of mother can someone be when they’re completely miserable?
    (And really, what’s with that comment about Asians? If that’s not a racist stereotype, then I don’t know what is).

    Good looking people make money, huh? Where did you find that research? Was it repeated? (and by the way, if you’re going to throw around information from a “study,” then you better make sure you provide a link for it. Am I just supposed to take your word for it?) Correlation does not imply causation, my friend. Movie stars make lots of money, don’t they? Last I heard, Johnny Depp’s annual salary was $100 million. Now, is he rich because he’s attractive? Or is he rich because he’s a movie star, and no one wants to watch normal people on television? (And another side note: who deemed these people in this study as “attractive”? Because as we all (should) know, beauty is very culturally subjective.

    Oh, goodness! We STEAL! You won’t have the chance to be an overachiever long if you go around stealing other people’s ideas. You’ll either find yourself on the infamy list, or in jail. Who would hire a thief? Plagiarism is a naughty thing, and the higher the ladder you climb, the bigger the fall you take for it. I don’t know about you, but if I were an employers, I sure as hell wouldn’t risk my company by hiring a plagiarist.

    So please, next time you decide to throw a broad net over a group of people and make a “list” of the things we do, make sure you understand the people first.


    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Although the provided link was for amazon, I retract my comment about providing a link to the study.

      However, you misrepresented the form of the information. I don’t know if I would call that “research.” Since I didn’t buy the pointless book I cannot say for sure, but from the table of contents, it seems as though no actual studies were done–at least none with true scientific merit. Was anything repeated? (And what about all those attractive poor people? And let me tell you, I know some pretty damn good looking idiots and underachievers).

  7. Rajive
    Rajive says:

    Overachievers are, I guess, ‘clueful’ – NOT drug addicted.

    “Being able to focus and resist distraction is also linked with our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve long term goals. Studies have found that children who are better able to regulate their attention and impulses are four times less likely to have a criminal record, three times less likely to be addicted to drugs, have more satisfying marriages and have significantly lower body mass index” …..
    Citation: 1. Moffitt, T., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R., Harrington, H., ……Caspi, A. (2011). From the Cover: A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (7), 2693-2698

  8. Emily
    Emily says:

    What is the purpose of this? To make people utilize this list and inevitably kill themselves? Because everything on this list is a symptom of mental illness. You are what’s wrong with the world. Don’t procreate.

  9. nikki
    nikki says:

    Just a quick note: This is the worst list of overachievers I have found on the web. Do a google search and you’ll find a lot of list which are more accurate. This is a list of a certain type of people but definitely not a list of overachievers. There are pros and cons of being an over achiever and the first characteristic of an over achiever is that they are usually exceptionally intelligent and thus don’t drop out of school, don’t have time to get pregnant in high-school because they (WE) are too busy focused on keeping those straight As. Over achievers want to be the BEST at everything they do and this is where problems occur for people who are genuinely overachievers. Forgive me if this post was just meant to be humorous and not have any relation to fact. I just got thru reading several list before reading this one. They were all on point and this one was way off.

  10. Maurice
    Maurice says:

    I’ve been through too much of this stuff. It’s time to be satisfied being just “an Achiever” and stop overdoing it. Life’s too short to shorten it more, whether compulsively or on purpose.

  11. Annie Barrete
    Annie Barrete says:

    There’s no difference between people who pursue achievement and people who pursue glory! It doesn’t really matter that some people have 25 unpaid internships, great grades, awards, etc. because of their passion for what they do! If someone else is better than me in any way… screw them!!!!!

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    What are your credentials to advise other people on overachievement? Sitting at your desk…typing? Do you know the type a, b or c qualifications of an achiever? Really, give me air to breathe if you do. What is your life experience? Did you ever have to fight your way through life an achieve anything? Oh, I forgot, you’re here to give the pointers to people that actually did something, that lived a life, that found purpose and still try. What’s your point and what is your story? Oops, sorry you have none. Write about something that moves you not something you know nothing about. Shame on you for wasting your overachieving nature on nothing that you know. That sucks.

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