Wednesday, April 20, 2011


If you're an overachiever, there's a good chance your self-esteem is low, and an even better chance your self-esteem is low and you're gay.  I know of what I speak.

For many years, I believed the only thing I had going for me was what I did.  I thought if I pushed myself hard enough, if I produced, produced, produced--and, not only if I produced, but if I produced perfection--people would notice me.  I'd get positive attention I couldn't get any other way.  I thought people may not like me because I'm gay, but if I impressed them with the things I did, by the results I achieved, they'd have to notice me, they'd have to respect me, they'd have to put my sexual orientation behind everything else.  I believed what I did, not who I was, was the only way I'd win people over.

Let me tell you what a vicious cycle that was.  First, no one is perfect.  Even if your whole being is focused on being perfect, you will never achieve perfection. Never.  Excellence? Yes.  Perfection? No.  You'll make yourself crazy trying to achieve something that's unachievable.  And, not only that, but every time you fall short of being perfect--which is constantly--you'll hate yourself even more for not measuring up to some unrealistic perception you have of yourself, and, according to what you think, for disappointing other people.  All you'll end up doing is finding another reason not to love yourself.

I was an overachiever through school, college, and every job I ever had, including the twenty-eight years I spent with a major financial institution.  Don't get me wrong--if someone pays me for what I do, then I want to do the best damn job I can for them.  It feels great to receive compliments and awards, to have the confidence of your boss and your boss's boss.  To be given greater challenges, and special projects, and pay raises, and annual bonuses.  All of that is a huge ego boost, believe me.  It's easy to get caught up in that stuff, to lose yourself in it, to concentrate on your career and see yourself go places that way.

But what about you?  What about all the hiding behind the career and the achievements and the pay?  It catches up to you. Eventually, you realize what you're doing.  Eventually, you see pushing yourself to achieve even more and even better--because you can't face the reality of who you are, because the need to run away from yourself is never-ending--won't help you deal with the pain inside, the pain of being something you hate, the pain of being something you believe everyone else hates, too.  As the old saying goes, you can run, but you can't hide.

Every time I pushed myself harder in my career was a cry for help.  Over a twenty-eight year period, I'd risen to star status, and I'd fallen to has-been status--numerous times over.  I loved riding high as a star.  Who wouldn't?  I loved the recognition.  I loved the love.  I felt the people I worked with loved me, in the way colleagues who respect each other's work do.  What I didn't realize is, they didn't love me for me, and, even worse, I didn't love me for me, either.  I loved me as long as everything was going well, as long as I continued to achieve, as long as others recognized me for what I'd achieved.

It's when you're a has-been that everything begins to fall apart. As a has-been, I was forced to take a hard look at myself in a way I never did when I was a star. As a has-been, not only did I see I was falling short in my job--that some colleagues far surpassed me with their performance--but also I saw I'd let myself down.  I'd let myself down by refusing to see my low self-esteem.  I'd continued to rely on other people to make me feel good about myself.  I hated who I was as a human being, because I was gay, but I liked who I was when I performed well, because everyone seemed to like me.

I remember talking to my boss one day as I sat at my desk.  I don't recall the nature of the conversation--I believe I was at the deepest part of being a has-been again, the performance of the department I ran wasn't meeting national expectations, and I took personally that I'd let everyone down. When, all at once, I woke up.  Finally.  For the first time in two decades.  And what I'd done over that twenty-year period became clearer to me than it ever had before:  I'd allowed what I did, my constant drive to overachieve, to become me, to take control, to overshadow the truth of who I was.  

In other words, for the first time in my life, I'd realized how I allowed my need to overachieve to trump my value as a human being.  For years and years, I'd tried to obliterate my sexual orientation--to wipe it from my mind and the minds of everyone I worked with--by distracting with results, results, results. Unconsciously, I'd told myself, "They may hate me as a gay, but they'll ignore all that and love me in spite of it for what I do, for the recognition I bring us, for our increased profitability as a company."  I believed I couldn't make them love me as a human being, but as an employee?  I had control over that.

I wish I could say I retired in the summer of 2007 riding high, at the top of my game, as that proverbial star.  But I can't.  I was working harder than ever, expectations had blown out of proportion, and the performance of the centre I managed at the time wasn't good. But this time, the valley in my career was different.  I no longer counted on the estimation of my colleagues, in relation to how well I performed, to make me feel better about myself, to make me love myself.  I knew I was meant to do so much more than I had for so many years, and I left my job to embark on that road and see where it took me.  

Is overachieving an issue in your life?  Is it somehow connected to your sexual orientation, and how you feel about yourself?

Give up your need to overachieve.  Recognize your value as a human being for who you are, not for what you do.  Be satisfied with performing well, pursuing excellence, not working yourself into an early grave so you think other people will love you, so you think you'll love yourself.  

Set yourself free.


  1. Damn Rick! You have just captured my whole teenage and young adult life in this single blog post. Although I don't think I have a typical type A personality, I have definitely pushed myself to overachieve all these years. And I did over-achieve. As long as I kept busy and focused on a project, I could always avoid dealing with my issues. But it did not drown the emotional baggage because when it resurfaced, it was like a raging bull.

    All this became clear to me when I came out to myself recently. Now, I just plan to live in the moment and live for myself- enjoying each day the best way I can. I am fine with mediocrity as long as it bring happiness.

    Please keep on writing Rick- you are the best.


  2. What I've learned through my writing, Donald, is if you write about the specific--that is, about yourself--invariably, you speak for the general, because many other people are in the same situation. So it is with overachieving.

    As I've read Savage and Miller's "It Gets Better," one gay person after another has admitted he or she is an overachiever. One fellow has even earned FIVE degrees from a post-secondary institution. I have nothing against education and degrees, but, if that's not overachieving--and a cry for help--I don't know what is.

    Part of "raising the experience of being gay," the subtitle of my blog, is identifying all those things we do to ourselves to mask our sexual orientation, to cope with it, to love ourselves, but in a way that's conditional, of course. My intention is to provoke thought and help LGBTQ people acknowledge their self-worth, stripped of all the clutter. Only then can you truly love yourself.

    I'm curious about something you wrote in your comment: You said you recently came out to yourself. Does this mean you only just recognized you're gay, or you only just accepted you're gay, after years of soul-searching, etc.?

    Good job with your philosophy of life. There's nothing wrong with always wanting to do well, and striving to achieve excellence. I still try to do that in everything I tackle. What I no longer do is overachieve, because, as I wrote in this post, there are all sorts of problems associated with that.

    Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them and your comment.

  3. I always knew I had same-sex attractions. It may seem crazy but I was sure as early as ten years of age. As much as i tried to acquire opposite-sex attractions, it has not worked. So I am just accepting that now in my twenties.

    The mind can play terrible games on us and denial and compartmentalization has been my strong suit over the years. I guess its a survival mode that the mind kicks into to prevent us from going berserk. It all worked so far until recently when I had to honestly deal with my issues. And I want you to know that your blog has been very helpful to me in this process.


  4. Donald, you have no idea how happy I am to learn what I've written here helped you accept the truth about yourself. That's the whole reason why I do what I do.

    As gay people, we have no reason whatsoever not to accept and love ourselves. None. It took me decades to get that. If I can aid that process along for young people like you, I have to believe you'll waste less of your precious life dealing with some of the crap I did, and more of it living to your fullest potential.

    Thanks again for being so kind and for your comment. I look forward to hearing from you often.