The Overachiever’s Treadmill: Why You Feel Like You’re Never Doing Enough (And How to Free Yourself)

By phildrolet

Nov 02

Audio version:Reading time: 12 minutes

Do you ever feel like you should be further along on your path? That no matter how hard you work, you’re not moving fast enough?

If so, you’re not alone. This is something I struggled with for years.

Every day I worked my tail off, pushed myself to the limit, and still went to bed feeling like I hadn’t done enough. Like I wasn’t enough.

It didn’t matter if I had completed 6 tasks on my to-do list. Running out of time for the 7th would haunt me (and cause me to secretly beat myself up).

The crazy thing is, from the outside it looked like I was crushing it. People were praising me, complimenting my work, and asking me for advice.

Inside, I felt like I was underperforming and wasting my potential.

But thanks to countless hours of meditation, a memorable conversation with my Dad, and an unconventional theory, I finally broke free from this delusion.

Today, I want to help you do the same (without having to meditate for hundreds of hours).

I’ll share this powerful theory to help you silence the nagging voice in your head, reduce your anxiety, and reach even higher performance (without nearly as much effort).

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The Overachiever’s Treadmill

Let’s start with a simple question:

Why do over 95% of overachievers feel like they’re not doing enough?

Isn’t that a bit insane, since we’re generally the highest performers in society?

Yes, it is insane. But there’s a clear explanation for it. Since the Industrial Revolution, a particular belief has emerged in society: “Faster equals better”.

When factories were first built, we started measuring success by quantity of output. All else held constant, if Factory A produced 10,000 units while Factory B produced only 8000, Factory A was deemed superior.

While this framework worked well in the industrial age (and for machines), it is profoundly flawed in the information age (and for creative workers).

Yet, our entire society seems to have missed the memo. We’ve continued to use this outdated model, and we’re still lead to believe that “faster equals better”.

It’s that misguided belief that causes us to get stuck on what I call “The Overachiever’s Treadmill”: no matter how fast we’re going, we think we should be going faster.

It never ends, and it’s a game we can never win.

Is it even true that “faster equals better”? I can certainly think of a few cases where that isn’t true: savouring a tasty meal, making love, and walking in nature- just to name a few.

How about for work? Does faster really equal better? As we look more closely, the answer might surprise you. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

But first, let’s look at the second reason you constantly feel like you should be further along on your path, and never feel like you’re progressing fast enough.

hedonic-treadmill

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The Zuckerberg Effect

Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most famous entrepreneurs of our time. Founder of Facebook, he has created a game-changing business and made a ton of money in the process.

But what makes Zuckerberg unique is not that he changed the world and a fortune doing it- it’s how young he did it.

Born in 1984, Zuckerberg was already worth $1.5 billion at 25.

mark-zuckerber_584

As we witnessed Zuckerberg’s spectacular rise, most of us felt inspired, yet somewhat inadequate. Consciously or subconsciously, it made us wonder:

How come I haven’t made millions in my 20’s?

Why haven’t I have changed the world yet?

Is something wrong with me?

And thus was born the Zuckerberg Effect: a subtle, psychotic fear that we are failing at life for not accomplishing anything groundbreaking in our 20’s.

It’s sad, really. What an insane standard to set for ourselves!

Between The Overachiever’s Treadmill and The Zuckerberg Effect, can you see why we’re conditioned to feel like we’re never doing enough? Like we’re falling behind, even when we’re trying our best?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at how we can turn things around, and actually feel satisfied while accomplishing great things on a natural timeline.

***

How Success is Actually Achieved

Since I was 9 years old, I’ve loved reading biographies. It’s still one of my favorite hobbies today.

What I love is that they gives us an accurate depiction of someone’s path: a behind-the-scenes look at their greatest successes, their crushing defeats, the silly mistakes they made, and the powerful insights they gained.

Again and again, I draw the same conclusion: “Wow, this person is awesome. And they screwed up a lot more than I thought. I guess, in a way, we’re not so different.”  

3 biographies have recently helped me gain a greater understanding on what the journey to the top actually looks like (and overcome the Zuckerberg Effect).

Let’s take a brief look at these 3 stories to help clarify our perspective on what it really takes to achieve “extraordinary success”.

Story #1: The Little Shoe Company from Oregon

Born and raised in Oregon, this man developed a fascination for athletic shoes early in life. After taking an around-the-world trip in his 20’s, he started importing running shoes from Japan.

For the next 15 years, he suffered countless logistical nightmares, struggled with crushing self-doubt, and was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy.

By the age of 35 (11 years into his business journey), it was still unclear whether he would make it or not. But he never gave up on his vision. He was all-in on building the best sports shoe company in the world.

At 42, after 18 years of hard work, he took his company public and made a fortune overnight. Suddenly, he was deemed a “huge success”. His name is Phil Knight, and he’s the founder of a little shoe company called Nike.

Note: In 2016, Knight is now the wealthiest man in sports (!) and the 3rd most generous philanthropist in America. He’s already donated more than 1 billion dollars.

phil_knight

(Read more in his memoir, Shoe Dog.)

Story #2: The African Prisoner  

This man was born in South Africa in a time of vicious inequality.  He lost his dad at 12, got kicked out of University at 21, and escaped from a forced marriage at 23.

Passionate about social justice, his fearlessness rapidly made him a leader in his community. But at 34, his momentum came to a screeching halt when he was sentenced to 9 months in prison.

Undeterred, he continued to stand for what he believed in. A few years later, the oppressive system finally got the best of him and he was sentenced to prison for life. End of the story? Absolutely not.

27 years later, he was released, and won something called the Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of 76, he was elected president of South Africa. His name is Nelson Mandela.

nelson-mandela-1952

(Read more in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom.)

Story #3: The British Eccentric

This man was born in England, and was always a bit of a goofball. He wasn’t good in class, didn’t conform to the norms, and dropped out of school at 15.

Entrepreneurial in nature, he decided to start a little publishing company. Over the next few years, he started selling records and tried to make a name for himself in the industry.

His first real success came when he was 27 (12 years into his career) but ever the entrepreneur, he reinvested everything into his company. In his 30’s, he came within minutes of going bankrupt on three separate occasions.

Despite the challenges, he continued to pursue his bold and innovative vision, to surround himself with great people, and to refine his leadership skills.

By his mid-forties, (three decades into his career) things started blowing up and he became a living legend. His name is Richard Branson, and he’s the founder of a little company called Virgin.

young-richard-branson_1462880463

(Read more in his autobiography Losing My Virginity.)

What Can We Learn from These 3 Stories?

Quite simply, achieving success at the highest level takes a long time. The path is filled with ups and downs, perceived setbacks and tests of character.

Furthermore, we can extrapolate 2 important lessons:

  1. Sustainability is key: If success is a long-term game, we need to approach our work in a sustainable way. Going full-speed for a few years just won’t cut it- we need to maintain a strong pace for 20+ years.
  2. Enjoy the ride now: If it’s going to take decades to achieve our biggest dreams, we can’t wait until we get there to enjoy life. We need to find a way to have fun every day, to appreciate daily progress, and to savour the journey to the top.

Makes sense, right? But here’s where it gets tricky:

  1.  The Overachievers Treadmill makes is almost impossible to maintain a sustainable pace. How could we, when there’s always a little voice in our head whispering: “Go faster! Do more! Don’t stop!”? So we go, go, go! But can we hold that pace for decades?
  2. The Zuckerberg Effect makes it supremely difficult to enjoy the journey fully because we’re constantly comparing ourselves with the Zuckerberg’s of this world instead of appreciating how far we’ve come and being proud of the great work we’re doing daily.

How can we resolve that? I didn’t have a clue until my dad dropped a wisdom bomb on me that forever changed my perspective on “the optimal journey to success”.

phildad

***

The Marathon Theory

For the past 2 years, my dad and I have been having fascinating conversations about entrepreneurship and the journey of life. What has made these conversations so rich is that we are at opposites points in our lives:

He’s about to retire and sell the business he’s built over 40 years, while I’m hitting my stride and building a new company (NewKings).

From this vantage point, he’s able to share valuable wisdom with me, and help me avoid making short-sighted mistakes in my approach to business.

One day, he said something that struck me. We’d been chatting for a few minutes when I told him that I felt like I wasn’t progressing fast enough in my career and that maybe I needed to work even harder.

He said to me, “Philippe, you have to remember that your career is like a marathon. You’re going to be working for about 42 years (a marathon is 42km), and just like in a marathon, it doesn’t matter who’s in first place after the first 5km. You have to pace yourself. Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Woah. Just like that, I got it. It’s not about going as fast as possible every day. It’s about finding the optimal pace to be at our best over a period of 40+ years.

No one ever remembers who was in first place at the beginning of the race. That guy gets exhausted, falters and finishes in the middle of the pack.

The winner, on the other hand, starts out strong, maintains an excellent pace, and smashes the field in the last 10km.

It’s the same in our career. No one remembers the guy who peaked at 28 but burned out at 31. No one remembers the guy who sold his business for millions in his 30’s but spent the rest of his life looking for his purpose.

Don’t be that guy. Play the long game. Pace yourself.

You’ll have a much better time and you’ll accomplish 10x what your “sprinter self” would have done without having to suffer the agony of burnout and deep exhaustion.

For an amazing example of Optimal Pacing, check out Dennis Kimetto’s splits when he set the marathon world record (2:02:57):

screenshot-2016-11-02-10-58-14

The amazing thing? His pace for the first 5km was exactly the same as for the last 5km (14:42).

dennis-kimetto-main

The Proven Benefits of Optimal Pacing

Ok, this is all nice in theory. But how does it work in practice?

For the past year, I’ve been playing guinea pig to test it out. And so far, the experiment has been a resounding success (which is why I’m writing about it today!).

It’s helped me achieve better quality in my work, greater depth in my spiritual practice, and ironically enough, get things done much faster.

Here are 4 specific “upgrades” you can expect as you start practicing Optimal Pacing:

  1. You’ll Save Time

There’s a greatly misunderstood concept in the world of productivity: being efficient doesn’t mean you’re being effective. Doing things fast (efficiency) doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things (effectiveness).

Most people pride themselves on being busy and running around at a million miles a minute. But what’s the point going fast if you’re not focusing on the right things? (That’s called “going nowhere fast”).

Efficiency isn’t inherently a bad thing. But efficiency without effectiveness is pointless. With Optimal Pacing, you’ll be able to take time to look at the big picture, figure out the best course of action, and strategically attack it.

This will eliminate all sorts of frustrations, obstacles, and setbacks you’re currently dealing because you’re trying to go too fast. This will save you significant time and energy.

2) You’ll be Kinder

It’s very difficult to be the best version of ourselves when we’re feeling stressed out. It instantly drops our level of consciousness and makes us operate in survival mode.

This leads us to be short with people, to feel less compassionate, and to become more self-centred. Is that really the way you want to live?

With Optimal Pacing you’ll have the deep satisfaction of making daily progress while having enough spaciousness to be kind, caring and share a laugh with others. Win-win.

3) You’ll Dig A Deeper Foundation

In architecture, the taller you want a building to be, the deeper you need to dig the foundation. It’s the same thing in life. And if you want to build a world-class life (a Skyscraper), you need a very deep foundation.

When you slow down a bit, you can ensure that your foundation is deep enough: you have more time build powerful habits, to deepen your spirituality, to develop an amazing support system and to optimize your mindset.

This foundational work will bring an immense ROI in the long-term, and will allow you to eventually reach your full potential instead of plateauing in your 40’s.

4) You’ll Be More Innovative

When do your best ideas generally come to you? Is it when you’re exhausted, can’t see straight and are responding to yet another email? Probably not.

Our best ideas come when we step away from work, are exposed to novel stimuli, and let our subconscious mind work its magic. That’s what allows us to be creative, bring fresh ideas to the table and be a game-changer.

Optimal Pacing helps us tap into our creative powers, find the shortcuts and make old problems obsolete. And eventually, it leads us to produce truly spectacular work.

innovation-is-a-state-of-mind

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How to Practice Optimal Pacing 

With all this being said, how can you actually apply Optimal Pacing to your life?

There are 3 keys and while each one is relatively simple, together they create a very powerful elixir for enhanced living.

  1. Give Yourself Permission

Starting right now, give yourself permission to slow down. Realize that it’s not only OK but it’s actually BETTER to take a nap/a break during the workday, to relax at night, and to have fun on the weekends. This is what Optimal Pacing looks like in practice.

  1. Set Your “Work Boundaries”

Now let’s go a step further: If working at 100% speed equals working all day, all night and every weekend, What does 90% look like for you? Take a moment to reflect on that.

Then, set boundaries to make sure that you maintain that Optimal Pace. Personally, I’m committed to taking a nap every afternoon, to never working past 6pm, and to taking at least one full day off every weekend. Those are my boundaries. What are yours?

  1. Celebrate Daily Progress

To counteract the negativity bias (and our brain’s tendency to focus on what we DIDN’T do today), it’s very helpful to capstone each day with a brief “positive focus”.

To do so, I encourage you to take ~5 minutes at the end of each workday (or right before bed) and write down all your “wins” for the day.

You did your morning ritual? Good, write it down.
You had a productive client meeting? Solid, write it down.
You had an honest conversation with an employee? Stellar, write it down.

Try to write down as many things you can think of, no matter how small or mundane they might seem. It will help you keep perspective, appreciate your progress, and build your confidence

(I do this every night and it always helps me go to sleep happy and satisfied.)

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In Conclusion: See You At the Top

My hope for you is that in 10-20 years, you’ll not only be doing world-changing work and be highly respected in your field, but that you’ll be more energized, inspired and excited about your work than you’ve ever been.

The reality is, our greatest contribution to humanity will likely come in our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. That’s when we’ll have the most resources, experience, and the best technology at our disposal.

The only question is: Will you still have the passion, drive, and enthusiasm you have today?

If you try to go too fast now and burn yourself out, the answer will be “no”.

But if play it smart and use Optimal Pacing, the answer will be a resounding “YES!”.

And what you can accomplish then, with a lifetime of experience, one can only fathom.

Here’s to playing the long game, doing great work and enjoying the ride.

See you at the top,
Phil

PS. Please share this post because that’s how more people can discover Optimal Pacing and perform better. 

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