High achievers are people willing to go the extra mile to make things happen.
They do it both for the sake of helping others — and to feel proud of themselves. Always striving for the next big thing is how they find meaning.
Would you call yourself a high achiever? And what’s the point of labeling yourself in this way?
I always thought that personality tests and labels should be taken not with a grain, but a spoonful (yikes!) of salt. They were good fun at best and I never gave them much credit for helping me understand myself.
These days, I see more value in them. Although personality types never capture human beings in their complexity, they can reveal some general tendencies. If you treat a label like “high achiever” or “highly sensitive person” loosely, it can help you notice things you haven’t seen about yourself before.
Knowing you’re a high achiever may help you pinpoint your strengths and leverage them. At the same time, it can show you what you’ve been overlooking and make you pay more attention to those areas of life you neglected so far.
But first, what does a high achiever look like?
What Is a High Achiever Like?
Before we dive into specific signs in your behavior, let’s better understand what it means to be a high achiever — and what drives them at work and in life.
When David McClelland proposed his Theory of Human Motivation, he pointed to three general needs that motivate people to do anything in life. These are a need for power, a need for affiliation, and a need for achievement. Different personalities are driven by different needs.
The latter — the need for achievement — is the main fuel for the actions of high-achievers. They’re motivated by the prospect of accomplishing something important and making a difference, both in their own and other people’s lives.
According to Mindtools’s summary of McClelland’s theory, the main characteristics of people driven by achievement are:
- A strong need to set and accomplish challenging goals;
- Taking calculated risks to accomplish their goal;
- Enjoying regular feedback on their progress and achievements;
- General preference to work alone.
In the workplace, high-achievers can provide energy for the whole team. Have you ever worked with someone who always pushed things forward, no matter what? Maybe it was obvious to the rest of the team that your boss screwed up big time, or that it was too late to implement a new solution. But the high-achiever remained enthusiastic. They did their best to fix things, even when everyone else saw the chance of success as scarce.
In the Enneagram framework, the Achiever is The Type 3 personality. As per Enneagram Institute, the basic desire of the Achievers is to feel valuable and worthwhile. By contrast, their main fear is to turn out worthless.
When operating at their best, Achievers accomplish great things and, quite literally, move their communities and even whole societies forward. A few examples of famous folks considered Achievers include Andy Warhol, Condoleeza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s hard to deny that those people made a difference in the world.
How can you tell if you have traits of a high-achiever? One way is to examine your day-to-day behavior for the signs listed below.
#1: You tend to measure your worth by the results of your work.
If a need to achieve is burning strong, you feel inadequate when it’s not met. The first question to ask yourself is: How do you feel when things don’t go as you planned?
For example, you may notice a pattern at work. When you’re perfectly productive, appreciated by your boss, or resolve a difficult problem, you feel good about yourself. But a minor mistake or failure to deliver a report on time quickly sends your mind to a low.
It’s typical for high achievers to tie their self-esteem to the results of their efforts. If you notice a strong connection between the two, read on.
#2: You rarely use phrases like “I can’t” or “It’s too hard.”
If you’re driven by the need to achieve, admitting that something is too hard for you may border on impossible. Why? Because it would contradict the identity you aspire to, which is one of a go-getter.
High achievers have an internal locus of control, which means they see themselves as active agents in their lives. They’re motivated by obstacles, not discouraged by them. To say “I can’t” would feel like giving that agency away — and assigning more power to external circumstances than to your internal resources.
Do you find it hard to say “I can’t do it,” even if a task seems super challenging? If so, this may be a sign of an achiever personality.
#3: You always have a vision of what comes next.
Some people live their lives day-to-day, without giving much thought to the bigger vision of their lives. That’s not you. As a high achiever, you understand that to accomplish great things, you need a plan.
So, you create visions in your mind. You tend to be a few steps ahead of the others. It may manifest in everyday situations — for example, your partner asking you what you’d like for dinner hours after you’ve already done the shopping.
This mentality also translates to more significant plans and decisions — your career, family life, or creative projects. You often find yourself considering possible scenarios because you like to be prepared.
#4: You do things instead of talking about them.
Everyone procrastinates to some extent, but if you ever do that, it’s in silence. No one ever sees you as a procrastinator because you don’t talk much about your plans. You do things first — and only then talk about them (if ever).
People around admire this more than you may think. You probably heard your friends asking, “How do you find the energy to do all that?” — more than a few times. Deep down, you feel resistance to do the hard things just like everyone. But, you also realize that not doing them would bring you even more discomfort.
Thanks to that, you’re able to stick to commitments when most people give up. This can sometimes make others uncomfortable in your presence because you outrun just about everyone when comes to willpower.
#5: You often forget to rest.
Does this sound familiar?
It’s eight o’clock in the evening and you’re sitting down for dinner. As you start eating, it occurs to you how tired you are… Suddenly, you realize that this is the first time today when you’re sitting down, not rushing to the next activity. You’ve been full-on literally all day!
High achievers tend to chase accomplishments even in their free time. If they have a spare half an hour, they’ll try to squeeze in a yoga session or a podcast. Every minute is precious to them when comes to pursuing their goals.
As a result, they forget the true purpose behind rest, which is to withdraw from any goal-oriented activities. They end up trying to optimize leisure time to serve a bigger purpose.
#6: You love learning more than you hate making mistakes.
No one likes the idea of failure and you’re no exception. You enjoy yourself when you nail a work task, perfect a DIY project, or kill the day’s to-do list.
But even though you feel like a perfectionist, you don’t let that stop you from moving forward. You feel the fear of failure just like everyone. But when mistakes are unavoidable, you’d rather make them and learn than let fear hold you back.
For example, if you run (or want to start) a business, you’d rather experiment and learn than not make any step at all. You understand that mistakes are an inseparable part of growth.
You’d rather meet your fear of failure heads-on than let it control you.
#7: You find it easy to focus on something you care about.
To achieve goals, you need to put your attention to them. This may seem trivial but most people fail to implement this.
Not you. If you want to make things happen, you understand that this also means trade-offs. You can’t write a book without giving up some Netflix time. You can’t raise healthy children without making time to exercise with them and cook healthy meals. Any goal worth pursuing requires energy and focus.
Even if sacrifices are required, making them comes naturally to you. If you care about something deeply, focus simply follows. You don’t try to conjure reality and simply wish for things to happen.
You know the effort is required — and, you’re happy to make it when it matters.
What to Keep in Mind as a High Achiever
If you identified yourself as a high achiever, congratulations! This means you have abundant resources to make your life what you want it to be.
You’re driven, passionate, and capable of directing energy towards the things that matter. Recognize yourself for this. Take a moment to appreciate that these qualities shouldn’t be taken for granted. A lot of people take years or decades to develop the kind of resilience and discipline you have.
At the same time, as a high achiever, you may care so much about goals that you drive yourself towards unhappiness. You hold yourself to such a high standard and you keep raising the bar constantly. You also tend to assume responsibility for all that goes wrong, even if you did your absolute best.
One thing you can try to ease that pressure is to resist the binary success-failure framework in your mind.
When you don’t reach your intended goal, you don’t have to see this as a bad thing. Sometimes, life has better things in stock than what we could imagine. Achieving your goals is just one possible scenario. Embracing the role of an observer who simply accepts whatever unfolds might be just as rewarding.
Leverage your strengths as a high achiever because you have plenty. But also, allow yourself to see that which exists outside of your masterplan.
I don’t think you’ll regret it.
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