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Be a High Achiever Instead of a Workaholic

Be a High Achiever Instead of a Workaholic

As a recovering workaholic, I have finally come to terms with the reality that workaholism is unhealthy and unsustainable. The tragic reality of workaholism is that is also leads to unhappiness and burnout in life and career.

I believe that suffering is optional and now I’m focusing on being a high achiever instead if a workaholic. I can still honor my strong work ethic and be highly productive while also feeling gratified and inspired by my work, and not overwhelmed.

This took some reprogramming before I was able to truly make the switch. I share these insights to help you navigate the journey from the dark side of workaholism into the light of being a high achiever. Onward!

High Achiever By Definition

A high achiever differs from a workaholic in that they are results driven and focus on the end goal. They use down time to look ahead and prepare. Or, rest and rejuvenate instead of creating meaningless work to fill the time.

According to Jullien Gordon, high achievers know when to turn up the intensity in their work. They give it their all and increase capacity when the opportunity presents so they don’t burn out giving 110% (or more) all of the time.

Stop The Busy Brag

Workaholics feed on being busy and often fill time and space with tasks that are not valuable or necessary. They are stuck in a mental block that busy equals important and nothing is farther from the truth.

Some work cultures also encourage the busy brag so fight the urge to wallow in how busy you are with fellow workaholics. Focus on how you are being strategic to work smarter and not harder so you can more fully enjoy your life and career.

Work Smarter

Research has shown how multi tasking is not efficient or productive as the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Single tasking will allow you to focus fully on one thing and complete the task at hand faster, which then allows you to move on to the next thing.

High achievers embrace single tasking and the clarity that comes with controlling your environment. Consider setting blocks of time to respond to email instead of reacting to the incoming mail signal with a Pavlovian like response.

High achievers are proactive in their work environment and design their day around the most important tasks that have the most significant return on investment of their precious time.

Good Enough to Go

Savvy professionals have embraced the good enough to go maxim that was birthed in the Design Thinking paradigm of tech start-ups. Workaholics often get stuck in the perfectionism paradox and never let go of a project because they believe it can always be better.

High achievers believe that “80% can mean done” when it moves the needle closer to the end goal. Tweaking and improvements can happen in the iteration and test drive phases of a project. If the work product never sees the light of day because of workaholics who practice perfectionism – you might as well have not done the work at all.

Validation Seekers

Workaholics often want to be seen as the over-achiever workhorses that put in long hours and burn the midnight oil. They buy into the over working culture and consider it a badge of honor. It’s not. In fact, it’s a badge of stupid since leaving PTO days unused is like throwing hard earned money out the window.

If your car is in the company parking lot late at night and every weekend then you are a work martyr, not a high achiever. Leaders must model the way to establish a high achieving work culture that honors vacation time, work life integration, and sustainable hours and flexibility that promotes wellness. This is the kind of work environment that develops and stewards high achiever talent.

If you need validation from your boss, seek it out and ask for constructive feedback. Don’t assume that the unsustainable cycle of being the last one in the office will earn you the recognition you are seeking.

Honor Your Play Time

High achievers value life as much as career. They focus on sustainable practices that include a wellness regimen and playtime. Think about how you played as a child with reckless abandon and no set agenda.

Career focused grown-ups especially need playtime to allow fun to be a significant part of their life. Playtime has measurable benefits that include boosting your creativity and giving your brain a chance to reboot, which leads to productivity.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to play?

Accountability Partner

Moving from workaholism to being a high achiever must be a conscious effort. To help you reprogram your habits and commit to this new life plan, consider an accountability partner whom you can turn to for support.

High achievers do extraordinary work while also enjoying their lives. My tagline and mantra is: Enjoy Your Career. Love Your Life! As a recovering workaholic, the temptation is always there to slip back into bad habits and unsustainable behaviors.

But the life of a high achiever is so much more compelling and gratifying. I highly recommend giving it a try.


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

Community Discussion
Annabel Mendez
Annabel Mendez

Great article! I definitely agree that many times we are workaholics to be recognized by others. Which when you are in the middle of being a workaholic you can't even see how inconsequential this is.

Sunday, Oct 22 1:39 PM EDT

Liz Shelor
Liz Shelor

For me, making the transition from workaholic to high achiever meant first understanding what "enough" looked / felt like vs. always pursuing "more." Getting clarity here was transformational.

Tuesday, Oct 31 12:52 PM EDT

Suzanne Weller
Suzanne Weller

Great read! Always helpful to reminder yourself and others about how (and when) to work smarter.

Tuesday, Feb 27 11:44 AM EST

Brittanni Below, MBA
Brittanni Below, MBA

Love the tip on the busy brag. I've learned that those who are constantly chatting about how busy they are just aren't really living! Work and life should always be balanced, and even if you're busy - there is a way to manage through that much smarter, as mentioned. I've always been a high achiever so this was a great way to put things into perspective from another view and reinforce what I should be focused on. Thank you for this share!

Thursday, Mar 8 9:20 AM EST