Guest post by my husband…
Last night, just I was turning out the lights I asked Noch Noch how was her day. “Not good”, she replied, “I didn’t do anything, except sit on the couch all day”.
I knew very well that while on the couch all day she had been typing blog posts, managing the household administration, checking bank accounts, replying to emails, and probably doing countless other tasks. I quizzed her on how many hours she had spent working (not playing) on the computer? “Ummm…. nine hours”, she stated.
“You’re nuts!” I said, “It doesn’t matter if you didn’t leave the couch, you used your brain all day and even worked more hours than an average office worker does!”
“But, I only wrote 800 words today, I was supposed to write 5000” Noch Noch murmured as she quickly drifted off to sleep.
Noch Noch is an overachiever. It’s not something she decided to be or even wants to be, its just how she is. Part of it is her personality, and part of it I attribute to her high-pressured upbringing where she was expected to perform at the top levels of school, debating, piano class, basketball etc.
Living with an overachiever like Noch Noch is frustrating…
…. because she is always unreasonable with herself about what she could accomplish during any single day – even when she is sick. She is rarely satisfied with her own performance, and in her mind everything is results-orientated. Although her attitudes bother me, I can understand her because I am exactly the same.
We had completely different up-bringings, yet turned out with very similar attitudes to achievement and performance. Noch Noch grew up in the Hong Kong and did absolutely everything her mother told her, even when it meant giving up her own hobbies, dreams and desires. I grew up in Australia and refused to do anything my parents told me. I was headstrong, mischievous and often got into trouble for arguing with all types of authority from a young age.
For everything we do, Noch Noch and I are always silently giving ourselves grades for performance: Blog posts, apple pies, Chinese calligraphy, wakeboarding, everything gets a grade for quality, taste, beauty or style etc.
I remember at school in Australia we used to get two grades. One was for actual test scores and the other one was for effort. Although my results were often mediocre in both, for my parents the grade that really counted was effort. I suspect that in Hong Kong effort doesn’t matter at all and only the tangible results grade counts for anything. (Noch’s note: there was no points for “effort” at all in my school…)
One problem overachievers have is benchmarking their best performance days as the standard for what should be achieved everyday.
So when the stars align and with peak energy and concentration I can put in an intensive 18 hour day that includes 12 hours of work, 2 hours of study, 2 hours of exercise and 2 hours for meals and sundries. The problem with this is because, once I know it can be done, I expect myself to perform at that level everyday. Yet, its unreasonable to expect everyday to be like that. As many over achievers aim for peak performance everyday, they end up letting themselves down and being unhappy all the time.
As I get older, and busier and become more demanding on myself, I have also become less satisfied with at the end of each day. A few weeks back this was all becoming too much to bear. I was miserable and beginning to wonder what the point of life was if I was so unhappy everyday.
I started to see myself going down a similar path to depression that Noch Noch took, so I decided to make some changes on how I judged my performance and achievement.
I re-organized my daily activities and started a simple excel spreadsheet system to track see how I spent my time each day. That way, at the end of the day/week/month I would know how I had divided my time, what I had achieved and where I needed to shift focus.
Just as my teachers in Australia had done, at the end of each day I also began to give myself a score out of ten for effort.
This has helped me to be reasonable with myself. So now, regardless of how many words I actually typed or new Chinese characters I learnt, at the end of the day I grade myself on effort. I take into account my energy and concentration levels, external demands on my time and other elements that would affect daily results.
By doing this, it makes it much easier for me to be satisfied with my day because I know if I had tried hard, and almost everyday I try pretty hard. My effort score removes any doubt of whether or not I could have done better. It lets me know that I couldn’t have gotten up earlier, done more sit ups or written an extra thousand words even if I wanted to.
So to my dear wife Noch Noch, I know you don’t like to listen to me, so I decided to write this in a post instead and hopefully your readers will support me.
Please unlearn the notion that tangible results are the only acceptable measure of your daily performance and hence happiness.
Please recognize that everyday cannot be a high performance day and try to give yourself credit for your efforts.
Whether you do or not is up to you and you know I will love you no matter what.
Please also check out my post on “Communication Breakdown” between the depressed and those who are not and contribute your experience to my soon to come ebook!