Growing up with a bunch of over-achievers starting at age 10 in honors classes until I graduated from a top tier law school in DC at age 25 is not normal, but it did provide me with a high level of tolerance for intense, demanding, perfectionistic brainiacs. In my home life these days, I still dig having brainiacs around, but the other traits I can live without. Luckily, I now have several guys in my life (my dad, uncle, 2 brothers and a son), who are all brilliant, yet low key and laid back, and they have taught me to laugh at the uber-planner Wonder Woman wanta-be me that wants to save the world.
Admittedly, my childhood was not normal at all. I was an over-scheduled, only child who tried to make up for what I was missing at home by signing up for all sorts of activities, including dance, gymnastics, debate team, editor of the school paper or journal, student government, etc. I focused all my energies on outside activities because unlike everyone else, there was not much of a family at home– no father, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, etc. Without anyone to really ground me, I soared in the outside world– great schools, internships, athletic opportunities that included summers at the Olympic Training Center and several stints studying abroad. Fantastic, I became the dream robot-child so many seem focused on creating these days, but here is my biggest confession: no amount of trophies, awards, diplomas, or anything else I have “achieved” could ever replace the longing for a normal family life.
For those of us who are built as over-achievers, it is incredibly humiliating to admit failure, and sadly there is no worse public admission of failure than a divorce. So many of my clients that are Ivy League graduates struggle with this issue, and there is this always this amazed look when I ask them, “is this the first time in your life things really went terribly off-course from your plans?” They nod silently, eyes looking down, and I sit there in one split second fully able to understand their devastating feelings of absolute shame because sadly, I lived through them. There is not much you can really say to comfort someone at this moment except to remind them that this happens in life, and it will all be okay.
As a parent, my advice to fellow parents would be to instill at an early age the notion that we all make mistakes, no one is perfect, and that it is normal to suffer setbacks in life. I would refrain from over-loading kids with activities or adding to the already immense pressures about picking the right careers at an early age. What is the right career anyway? I just want my son to be happy at whatever he does, and let me just come clean and say that most lawyers, doctors and bankers that I have met are desperately lacking in true satisfaction from their careers.
Being able to appreciate some down time is a great life skill– a skill that I am still struggling to possess. I am relieved that my own son has no interest in following in my footsteps. Trying to please others and meet their expectations has rarely allowed me to figure out what I personally want out of life. It is utterly refreshing to see that my child is his own independant little man, who will not fit into someone’s cookie-cutter mold. I hope that others will foster this free spirit in their own children and other loved ones, because being an over-achiever is truly over-rated.