Five days after a serious skiing accident and with a bad concussion, I stood in front of over a hundred executives to deliver a keynote speech. Looking back now, I can honestly say it never even occurred to me not to do it. The only question was how I would do it. I remember lying on the stretcher, about to be helicoptered off the mountain, and wondering whether the injuries to my face could be covered by makeup when I gave my talk.
At that stage of my life, no matter what I was going through – my mantra was always “The show must go on”. Terrible morning sickness on both pregnancies, going through my divorce, finding out while running a workshop in Frankfurt that my mother was being transferred to the hospice and they didn’t know if she’d survive the next few hours. I always kept going.
And I’d always prided myself on being able to dig deep and get myself through whatever needed to be done in my life or my work. It was what I did. Push through. Get on with it. You can do it.
Doers, achievers and fixers
Those of you who are ‘doers’, ‘achievers’ or ‘fixers’ will likely recognise this pattern of behaviour and thinking. You are strong. You suck it up. You know you can do it.
And I could tell you countless stories of people I‘ve worked with who’ve pushed through no matter what. One man described how he realised he was having a stroke during a critical meeting, but said nothing and kept going until the deal was signed and sealed. Another had heart surgery yet barely decreased her 60-70 hour weeks while she recovered.
High achievers and doers often pride themselves on this behaviour. This inner strength. As I used to. But is it actually a good thing?
An over-used strength
All our strengths have a downside if over-used.
Being a giver can become never getting your own needs met when taken to the extreme. Being organised can become rigidity. And for the high achiever, being tenacious can lead to overworking or over-performing. It can affect your wellbeing, happiness or even your physical health. It can impact relationships and other important parts of your life. And it can easily reduce the amount of fun or joy you get out of life.
Happiness is now
When you are in a habit of doing and achieving, your focus tends to be on the future and your mind is often busy, so it’s harder to be fully present to the here and now. It’s easy therefore to miss out on all the good stuff that’s happening and available to you in this moment.
Happiness can only be experienced in real time. Right now – in this very moment. And so it’s easy for high achievers to miss the fun, the happiness, the joy available to them right now because of the busyness, the drive to achieve or do or finish. Or to ‘Get your work done before you play’.
And being caught up in too much doing and not being present can also affect your relationships – both at work and personally. How often have you known when you were talking to a someone that, even though they were nodding in the right places, you knew they weren’t fully ‘there’? It doesn’t feel great.
Many years ago, I was sitting on the floor playing lego with my four year old and he said to me “Mummy, you’re meant to be playing with me … why are you tidying up?”. If a four year old can sense that you’re not really there, then just think how your team, your loved ones, your friends feel when you are there in body, but not fully there in mind or heart.
A new definition of success
While simple in theory, balancing doing with being isn’t always easy for the high achiever. It means letting go of or at least loosening your attachment to the very thing that’s made you successful. That got you to where you are. But just because you CAN do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. That it’s right for you. Or that it’s right for you now, at this stage of your life.
When I chose to sell my business in 2017, I was crystal clear on my vision for my coaching business. I made the decision that the way I felt as I ran the new business was every bit as important as the outcomes of the business. In other words, if I had fantastic clients, did powerful, impactful work and made lots of money but wasn’t really enjoying it or was feeling stressed or too busy for other important parts of my life, then this was NOT success. Not for me. Not at this stage of my life.
This was a radical change in mindset for the achiever in me. A totally new definition of success. A being AND doing definition.
So is it time you redefined what success is to you at this stage of your life? What might be the right definition of success for you now? A life where you achieve the things you want AND you feel good along the way. Where you truly are a human being, and not a human doing.
Do let me know – I’d absolutely love to hear.