Were you the kindergartener who memorized the entire alphabet on your very first try?
Were you the elementary school legend who decimated the competition in the school spelling bee? Were you the high school student who never brought home anything less than straight A’s on your report card?
If that’s you in a nutshell, then you’re probably a classic overachiever.
Which is a great thing in the world of academia, but a little more tricky once you’re done with college and heading out into the job market.
Don’t get me wrong – your intelligence, your drive, and your work ethic are all going to make you a valuable resource to future employers.
But your constant need for success can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, especially in a rocky economy like this one.
As you start your career, you don’t want to find yourself disappointed and disillusioned because your dreams of real-world success aren’t what they thought you would be.
Here are a few things you need to remember as you start your career.
You Can Only Control So Much
One of the biggest differences between work and school is the amount of control you have over your own personal performance.
When you were in school, it was up to you, and only you, to bust your butt, study hard, and bring home the good grades.
Unfortunately, things aren’t that clear cut in the work environment.
You can have everything you need on your resume: great experience, great recommendations, great skills, but if the economy stinks, you could still end up making lattes to make ends meet.
Or if you’re lucky enough to have a job but your sales department isn’t running smoothly, or your CEO is embezzling company funds, your ability to move forward in your career could be affected through no fault of your own.
That’s why it’s important to separate out which parts of your career are under your control, and which aren’t.
No matter how awesome you are, you can’t magically fix the economy, make your dream job opening appear, or turn around a flailing department singlehandedly.
And trying to do so will make you crazy – so focus on the things you can do to keep yourself moving forward (like working hard, pursuing new networking opportunities, and staying up-to-date on your industry).
Don’t Compare Yourself to Anomalies
Sure, Mark Zuckerberg was a CEO and baziollionaire by the time he was 25. Yes, Steve Jobs dropped out of college and started Apple by the time he was 21.
These are really great success stories – and also anomalies. Most of us don’t see success happen that fast.
And while it’s great to aim high and shoot for the stars and all that, if you’re beating yourself up because you’re 24 and not the head of a multi-million dollar corporation, that’s just ridiculous.
I know you’re an overachiever and you’re used to a certain amount of success, but you have to be realistic about your career goals.
Most successful careers take time to build. Enjoy that ride, because there are a lot of fun times and great learning experiences to be had along the way.
Your Definition of Success is Going to Change
Overachievers tend to get a goal in mind and then block everything out while they focus their laser-like vision on achieving it.
That’s great when it comes to essay test and terms papers, but you’ll need a little more flexibility when it comes to your career.
Articles like this one from Forbes stress that “job hopping” is the norm in today’s economy, with most workers staying in their positions for an average of 4.4 years.
So fasten your seatbelt: you’re probably going to end up doing a lot of different things over the course of your career.
Maybe you’ll go to graduate school with the goal of becoming a college professor, only to end up finding out you love business and want to get into business development, and then you ultimately end up striking out and starting your own business.
Your path is probably going to zig as much as it’s going to zag, so don’t get stuck in one vision of success.
Understand that what success means over the course of your career may change (and that’s a good thing).
Being an overachiever is what got you this far in life, so don’t throw away all the good things that come with it.
You just want to make sure you develop some other skills, like the ability to be agile and resilient, which are necessary for the ups and down that come with entering the working world.
While high school and college are pretty regimented, the real world is far from it. If you can pair some flexibility with your overachieving mindset, then there will be no stopping you.