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I was reading a list of goals from a client and nearly laughed out loud. I work with a lot of overachievers, but I thought this was perhaps the most ridiculously overambitious list yet.

But I didn’t want to say that directly. I wanted him to figure that out for himself. So I told him to add up how many hours he thought each task would take to accomplish and report back to me.

He estimated it would take him approximately 15 hours a day over the next 90 days to accomplish the goals he’d described. And he was completely unfazed at the prospect. In fact, it would be difficult to describe his emotional state as anything other than eager.

This was an interesting response considering that when I asked him to choose one word to describe his 2015, he replied, “Overwhelmed.”

This is a man who loves his work. He also happens to be exceptionally good at it. When I asked him what he would do with more free time if he had it, he had a hard time coming up with a response. The idea of relaxing on a beach or getting lost in a book wasn’t unappealing, but those activities had a hard time competing with his passion-based business.

That interaction got me to thinking. Is there a meaningful difference between overwhelmed and busy? And is it possible that the trick to stop feeling overwhelmed had nothing to do with how busy you are? 

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I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines.

On the one hand, they stress me out. I worry I won’t be able to finish in time, that the quality won’t be up to my standards, that people will be disappointed in me.

On the other hand, those exact fears are what drive performance. Disappoint people who matter to me? Shoddy work?

Not this overachiever.

Before I left London, I made myself a schedule and a commitment. I would get up at 6 AM every morning and write for about 2 to 3 hours. After that, I could do whatever I wanted. But the writing came first.

I made the necessary arrangements. My daughter would spend two weeks with her Grandparents while my husband turned over our flat in London.  Then I committed to my Luminaries Club members that I’d report on how many words I’d written by our next call–just two weeks after the big move.

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Editor’s Note: Last year, I gave a free webinar on core values for my subscribers. One person who took me up on that offer was Wallace Montgomery.

Brave enough to allow the group to give a critique, I gave him some free coaching afterwards to refine the values he came up with. To my surprise, on his third draft, he listed Overachieving as one of his core values. I asked him to share his thinking behind this decision, and how he came to see overachieving as such a valuable part of his personality. I thought his answer was particularly insightful and I share it with you below.

For an overachiever, there are few better environments than grade school.

While I don’t miss sitting in a classroom all day, I do yearn for a time when concrete goals were laid in front of me – and the surest way to accomplish them was hard work. It was an all-you-can eat buffet, and studying to get straight A’s was just the first helping. You were encouraged to load your plate with after-school activities. And the more you could consume, the more impressed everyone appeared to be.

Needless to say, the post-college world shocked me.

Among the countless lessons learned over the years: hard work in and of itself doesn’t guarantee anything. To truly get better at something worthwhile, you generally have to fail at it again and again (after a lifetime of living in fear of the F!). And being an overachiever can be a serious liability – mostly because it’s a hard thing to shut off.

All my life I’d sprinted, unrelentingly, mercilessly, towards a goal. I would achieve it and keep going, barely slowing down, on to the next. That worked just fine in school, even in some jobs, but not so well in longer-term pursuits like changing careers.

My career change has been a long, exciting, frightening, unpredictable journey.

And as an overachiever, it’s been, at times, crushing. At the end of each day, what have I done? Some thinking? Self-reflection? Research? That’s not enough!

I started riding myself hard. I wanted results, and I knew they weren’t coming any time soon. The criticism became so frequent and harsh it endangered my ability to achieve anything.