Achievement addiction and self-doubt

When I learned that my sabbatical application had been successful and that I’d been awarded the leave, I thought I would feel relieved and proud of my accomplishment. I thought that I would get a boost of self-worth over the accomplishment. And I did. Both of these things. But I did not expect that this achievement would provoke such a crisis of confidence. And yet! Here I am, questioning mintellect.

My name is Maria, and I’m an achievement addict. This is how I’ve lived my life for as long as I can remember. This is how I see myself in relation to the world. This is how I seek self-validation. Through accomplishing stuff and getting acknowledged for these accomplishments, I affirm my self-worth.

I acknowledge that this is kind of fucked up.

The achievements I seek and accomplish are ones involving intellectual labor. The very first intellectual accomplishment that I can think of is learning how to read at age 2. My older sister claims that I merely had the book memorized, but my parents insist that I was reading on my own. I don’t remember this, but I do recall being able to read as a 3-year-old in preschool.  And I remember knowing that this was unusual and special. The equation of intellectual accomplishment = self-worth was thus established astonishingly early on in my life.

Being an academic is a perfect career path for someone like me, who thrives on racking up a list of accomplishments (like publications and awards) and getting rewarded for their accretion (like getting promotion and tenure). So what happens when my intellectual endeavors are thwarted? See, for example, my previous post re: failing to be admitted to a PhD program in English. Failing to achieve an intellectual endeavor can cause a crisis of confidence and a dearth of self-worth. So perhaps it would be healthy to 1) break the achievement addiction, or, failing that, 2) find other sources of self-worth.

I think my achievement addiction is too ingrained to try to break, so I try to focus on strengthening my self-worth through other avenues. And I struggle with this immensely. It requires an staggering amount of self-pep-talk. I suspect that I’m going to spend most of my sabbatical leave engaging in one lengthy, incessant, interminable self-pep-talk. I mean, yes, I will have lots of quiet, uninterrupted downtime, the unimaginable luxury of tons of paid free time to read and write, but I am concerned that my constant self-doubt will cast a pall over the extravagance thereof.

I’m hoping that writing all of this out will help make less room for this self-doubt to take up residence in my consciousness. Let’s see if it works.


About Maria

Librarian, reader, writer, catlady.
This entry was posted in pep-talking, preparing, reading. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Achievement addiction and self-doubt

  1. Latrice says:

    This article is really speaking to me. This weekend, I was in long thought telling myself that I need to get out of the realm of competition. I am an achievement whore and it is definitely how I have valued myself. I almost broke down when my articles were rejected by multiple journals. I took it as if I was a failure and I am just now recovering from it. I will always be someone who sets goals and achieves them, however now, my life will not be consumed with it. Well, at least I’m going to try.


    • Maria says:

      I hear you, Latrice! You have lots to be proud of, you tenure-getting-lady-you, so try to focus on what you have achieved and don’t let the negative stuff get you down. Easier said than done, I know… 🙂


  2. I feel so validated by this post , Maria. I, too, am the same way and really , though , I don’t think I can stop. For me achievement isn’t so much about competition, but instead , an intellectual drive I cannot turn off. Keep being awesome, sister. Glad you are out there!


  3. Pingback: Reading and the wandering mind | The Sabbatical Librarian

  4. Pingback: On failure | The Sabbatical Librarian

  5. Pingback: On the liberatory power of doing just enough | Academic Library Instruction Burnout

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