Thursday, January 31, 2008

Aging Overachievers

A good friend of mine in NY sent me an article about aging overachievers entitled, "From Overdrive to Coasting" (Newsday, 1/28/08).

In the article, the author (Kathy Connors) accurately captures our current and future plight as overly-ambitious, do-everything types people. She does a great job describing the archetypal overachiever (maybe she's been reading this blog!) and how people like us may feel as we age:
Overachievers make long to-do lists, do most of what's on the list and then agonize over what doesn't get done. They are the homeroom mom who makes cookies from scratch even though she works full time and does seven loads of laundry a week. They are the hardworking dad who brings a change of clothing to work so he can coach his son's soccer team every day after school while he sets up business appointments for the next day. They are the people at the gym at 6 in the morning. And they often have multiple degrees. After all, one of anything is seldom enough. If you consider red lights a great opportunity to check phone messages, then consider yourself a hopeless case.

What happens to overachievers as we age? Let's face it, the spirit is still willing, but it's the flesh that's weak. While we hate to admit it, we run out of energy sooner than we run out of ideas. And it is certainly not in our nature to just fade away. We may burn up, burn out or just annoy the hell out of family and friends (who would never even want to measure up to our high standards). I've talked with many aging overachievers who tell whispered tales of diminished capacity for pushing themselves beyond all reason. We feel guilty even discussing what we see as our "infirmities." After all, we are profoundly uncomfortable even having things like bad backs, the stirrings of arthritis or that strong desire to just take a nap. That's the entire point of being an overachiever. We refuse to see ourselves as simply human. That would be settling, and we don't ever settle.
When my friend sent me the link, I don't think she knew just how much this would resonate with me. She couldn't have known how bummed I was when I first got glasses (because my eyesight was no longer perfect) or that I almost cried 2 years ago when I got my first cavity. To me, these were irreversible indications that I wasn't the super-human being I wish I could be (thought I was?), and I could do nothing about it. Maybe she could see it in me, despite never hearing the particulars.

On the bright side, aging can be a good thing. Think about what we've learned just in the last few years and imagine that we'll continue to gain wisdom, experience, and perspective as we get older. Every so often, if I'm feeling a bit stagnant, old, or doubtful in my personal evolution, I find myself channeling Stuart Smalley and thinking:
"Every day I'm getting better and better"
It also reminds me of the line from the old Ragu (spaghetti sauce) commercial:
"As I get older, I get better"
These sayings may be a bit hokey, but they're good reminders that even though we're noticing more and more imperfections as we age (gasp), we're continuing to learn, grow, and improve in other ways. Or at least that's what I tell myself :)
  • How do you feel as an "aging overachiever"?

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