Overachievers And Why We Hate Them

overachievers, underachievers,

Why Do We Hate Overachievers?

I work very hard at what I do with every client, presentation, and article I write.  Some may call me an overachiever.  I work long hours, solve complex problems and do it all with a passion and a smile most days.  I love what I d0, but not everyone loves me back.

Hate is a very strong word.  It’s an emotion, a feeling.  Hate is tied very closely to love and lust. So why do organizations, leaders, and co-workers hate overachievers?

What John Travolta Can Teach Us About Overachievement

Over the weekend I watched one of my favorite movies from the 90′s with John Travolta; Phenomenon.  The storyline gives us insights into what life is like for that pesky office or industry overachiever we love to hate.

Overachievers are Different

They think different, act different, do different, and work different.  For the hive of humanity, different isn’t good.  It reminds us we have weakness and our immortality.

Overachievers Work Differently

John Travolta’s character in Phenomenon read six books or more a day.  He worked on projects like developing an organic fertilizer or creating a less time consuming route in which to deliver mail.  This is a seemingly unconnected group of projects or interests, not unlike your young Gen Y counterpart in your office.  He plays around on Facebook, leaves the office and 5 and still manages to get his work done better and before everyone else.  Working more doesn’t always equate to more productivity or better quality.  Some people just are good at what they do no matter what.

Overachievers Want Special Treatment

In their mind, it’s not special just different treatment.  They want to be rewarded for their ability to get the job done better than everyone else.  That means flex schedules, Fridays off and work from home options.  Being an overachiever is a lot like being a blogger.  I want free access to your conference, perks (free stuff), and respect.  I ooze influence.  With me, it’s a package deal.  Overachievement is no different.

Overachievers Burn Out

OA’s are competitive and action oriented.  They blaze trails, work hard, conquer projects and check out.  Organizations need to be able to manage these kinds of individuals to take advantage of the passion, knowledge, and perspective they bring to an organization.

Understanding Overachievement

These feelings of hate or disdain are fueled by the leader within the organization or department.  Their lack of understanding, openings, or willingness to work with an overachiever fuels the negative emotions from team members.  While leaders mean well, their responsibility is to motivate, retain, train, and grow their employees.  And that starts with communication, conversations, and structure for the underachiever, average achiever, and overachiever. Overachievers operate in what is called “The Paradox of Excellence.”  They opt to do the wrong thing well rather than do the right thing poorly.  It is this drive to be the best conflicts with their ability to ask for help when an OA is in too deep.

While they produce and have a phenomenal drive, they drive leaders to the brink of insanity, hence the hate for overachievers.  They refuse help and undermine your leadership.  This is why mentorship, training, and special projects are essential to corral that overachiever.  Keep them on task, entertained, engrained, and occupied.  Because channeling the drive, compassion, and power an overachiever are essential to leading, growing, and rebuilding your department or organization.  Teaching your overachiever humility takes practice but is necessary to their future success either with your organization or someone else’s.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


      • Sarah Walker says

        Overachiever mentality. It was a compliment, but I’m an overachiever and want special treatment and it’s not good enough for me. He was a human and he made mistakes. Unilke:

        They think different, act different, do different, and work different. For the hive of humanity, different isn’t good. It reminds us we have weakness and our immortality.

        Overachieves shove human weaknesses and MORTALITY, not immortality by the way, down others throats.

        I hope I have clearly givens some reasons why I hate overachievers. Because their a walking, perfect, fake, lie. Their what your supposed to be. They are told they are better than you. They are insecure and needy. When their behind your back they are nasty, and then they hide behind their glossy veneer. And their a paradox of what they say they are.

  1. Arlene Marie Daniels says

    I used to be an overachiever in my previous job. But when I realized that it won’t get me anywhere (except for more work and no additional income), I decided to relax a bit and not burn myself out. From then on, I began getting annoyed by overachievers. But yeah, their fires burn out too at certain times. And then it becomes tricky. How to treat who and when. That’s why I bought books like this one http://www.depressionatwork.com by Dr. Darryl Cross, so I can learn how to deal properly with my colleagues at the office.

  2. Jo says

    There seems to be a bias against OA. Leaders or HR may need to speak to them directly and convey their concern and suggest possible paths. Instead of labeling, typecasting and alienating, they may need to be put in teams with somewhat similar folks and imagine the incredible outcomes!! IMHO, yes they are to be rewarded suitably. Things don’t always come easy to OA’s.. They go through their personal pains too. Leaders who can’t handle them in their teams may have to hand them over to more capable leaders in other organizations. Otherwise they shrink and fade into mundane oblivion. Don’t let that happen.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Hi Jo,

      Thanks for the comment. I think that in corporate and in life sometimes, we alienate, shame, and bully people we don’t understand. Maybe it’s jealousy, but over achievers shouldn’t be treated badly because they can get the job done in half the time. I’m not slowing down to make anybody look better.


      • Clancy Jane says

        Overachieves alienate, shame, and bully people they don’t understand. That’s why we hate them. They are a complete fake, veneer. They lie about everything and are the exact opposite of what they seem and say. Do you know how condescending you constantly sound through these comments and this factless article?

    • Clancy Jane says

      We don’t need you to tell us how great overachievers are. Oh and look you have your own special signature JMM. REAL LEADERS take risks and are human, not fake condenscending and “Above people” like overachievesr. Now they need their own group, oh special them. Just treat them like everyone else and we will be fine.

  3. Kensington Pearl says

    I’ve been called an OA but at the time I’m not sure I really believed what they were saying or knew what it really meant. It has been described so eloquently in this post. Interestingly, I never thought of it as performing in a way that purposely makes people feel bad. I honestly believe some OAs perform the way they do because they are in “the zone” at least for a little while where the work is fun and creativity flows freely. It’s true though, sometimes the fire burns out, http://www.simplecareerlife.com/2012/12/my-epic-career-journeyso-far.html . However, the beauty of it is, most OAs will find another outlet.

    Love your blog!

  4. wdp says

    Jessica why are you hating on Jennifer? it was obvious that was sarcasm!!

    Is it because she is an overachiever and you feel threatened by her?

    Jessica i think your lack of understanding, openings, or willingness to work with Jennifer fuels the negative emotions you have for her!

    Great article.


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  6. Norbs says

    I think what bothers me with overachievers is that they try so hard and disrupt the regular flow of how things get done just to be noticed. Not only that but they tend to get into things that aren’t supposed to be their responsibility and complicate things that were once simple and everyone was on the same page, they put themselves over the team. I personally don’t want to thrash myself to look good at work, I want balance in my life. I also don’t want to have to fight to work on something that is supposed to be my responsibility because someone chose to go and snake it away from me. I think over achievers at work are just overcompensating for what they lack in their personal life and they are a bit of a detriment to teams.

  7. Ana says

    I’m an OA and I had never thought that my behavior would be hurtful to other people.
    I had a senior executive coaching me in that matter. OAs don’t mean to hurt other people, they just love the challenge to deliver results.
    But to be honest, most of the time I think my colleagues are just lazy and if I depend on their will (or lack there off) I’ll never get what I want.

  8. Sarah Walker says

    We hate overachievers because they have serious emotional problems, and are just overcompensating so they can feel better. They are so perfect and look so nice to everyone, but when they show their true colors they are nasty! They are rude and do anything to get ahead, are seriously needy inside, and especially use others. And since their so well like they give it that saccharin affect, and make it unprovable. They are the perfect “good girls” and are better than you at everything that they do, and even when they aren’t and you are the one who did all the work, they are still praised for it and your just that idiot who criticized them for not doing enough work. Everyone comes to their side when their down, but when you are nobody could have noticed, and the most somebody will do is spit at you, and just say your worthless in the same situation. They do whatever society wants, look how they should, are nice, and do everything just to get compliments and boost their low self esteem. They might be nice to the new girl, but not for long, They act mature, but when the new girl suddenly becomes unpopular they will disappear, because their maturity is just another glossy cover, well liked by all! In school there was this overachiever I hated named Elena Lauria. I was a gifted kid, and interested in engineering. I was new to the school, and we were supposed to write an essay about engineering and why to become one. She never helped and screwed around the whole project while putting on a polite face the rest of the class. She kept “accidentally erasing” words on my google doc just because she was bored. She was supposedly smart according to the rest of the grade, but as it turned out she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the toolbox. She didn’t know what she was doing, and she kept fooling around with random things trying, but failing to look important and knowledgeable. She didn’t even know the difference between veterinarians and engineers. Her best friend the, 2n’d most popular girl in the school literally did nothing. Elena only did one thing, she printed out the paper. They acted patronizing to me behind the teachers back the whole time. But she is so apparently very mature! I ended up writing the whole paper, doing all the research, and graphics. It got an A+ and honors. I was foolish and didn’t think Elena was too bad at the time, and I didn’t want her an F for doing nothing, so I let it go. But when the teacher started praising her and punishing me, and it got honors I came out with it. The teacher disbelieved me because he said “I was in a good group”. -That patronized me and did nothing. After that the girl repeatedly tried to use me. She also went on trips outside of school with the teacher, was A+ polite!, the most popular girl in school, know as mature, and the hallmark of an overachiever, and boy, she was nasty. There are even many psychology studies linking overachieving to being caused by low self esteem and insecurity.

    “They think different, act different, do different, and work different. For the hive of humanity, different isn’t good. It reminds us we have weakness and our immortality.”

    No, they blend in perfectly and do whatever is acceptable to feed their self esteem, their mortality is scripted, and they only remind others behind the screen of the boss their weaknesses”

    Overachievers are know for looking for more recognizement than the deserve, not to be treated differently, the be treated especially under the cover of an appeasing screen. Kind of like how an insecure narcissist sports fake overconfidence and tries to look charming. Also in both places here false sense of everything and grandiose wishes.

    • Sarah Walker says

      Overachievers = work hard to get compliments about normal, acceptable, better recieved things and to feel good about self

      REAL hard working person = working hard for good causes they believe in for others

    • Sarah Walker says

      “Some people just are good at what they do no matter what.”

      That is overachiever mentality. That is obnoxious. That is condescending. They are humans too, but seem to disbelieve that themselves. Some things take practice. Some things you can lose. Real mature people take calculated risks. Immature people don’t. Overachievers don’t take risks, and only do what they are good at, leading to the above.

  9. Sarah Walker says

    “Overachievers are Different
    They think different, act different, do different, and work different. For the hive of humanity, different isn’t good. It reminds us we have weakness and our immortality.”

    Stop right there, not so sure about that. Overachievers always do what’s expected, just in a even better recieved way. They blend in the the best received ways and only stand out how is liked by society, like having the newest not yet worn trend. They try to hide their weaknesses, and behind the bosses back shove others down their throat in a sneaky, saccharine, unprovable, reputation saving way. They are so fake and veneered their humanity is unshowable, and they are now the perfect robot, or barbie doll of society!

    The one who is different, such as the one who isn’t afraid to wear what they want in middle school, or try something new, is looked down upon and spat at by the overachiever, because nobody else likes her and they(the overachiever) will therefore now be better received by every one else(who doesn’t like her)

    • Pepe says

      I think you are using the term wrong. Usually the overachiever is the one that was looked down in high school and was afraid to show off.


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