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High achievers don’t always make the best entrepreneurs — here’s why

If you’re used to everything going right, you may be a high achiever. You passed exams in school with ease, you’ve always been the best at everything you do, and you never take no for an answer.

But if you’re thinking about starting a business, you may be in for a wake-up call. Instead of an easy, straightforward path to success, you can expect a dizzying rollercoaster of ups and downs, early morning and late nights, and, let’s face it, failure.

That’s right, building a business is no walk in the park. And if you’re generally the type of person for whom everything comes easy, it’s time to prepare yourself mentally.

Why entrepreneurship can be tough for high achievers

As a self-proclaimed high achiever, I ran into a lot of bumps along the path to building a successful business as a freelance writer. As I look back on those initial struggles, I realized that I was the cause of many of them.

If you’re like me, it’s important to understand the roadblocks you may be putting up and how to address them before they become a problem.

High expectations

One of my worst enemies in starting my business was my expectations. I’ve always believed that I could be the best of the best, and it was all or nothing. If I couldn’t make six figures blogging within two years, what was the point of even trying to improve my writing skills?

Over the years, however, I discovered that mindset can be a major roadblock to success because it doesn’t reflect reality. There are some bloggers out there who have achieved that type of success, but I wasn’t one of them and that just meant I had to find another way to make money.

“As an entrepreneur, there is frequent failure, constant tweaking, endless strategizing, and regular bumps along the road that naturally come with building a business,” says Alyssa Adams, a clinical psychologist and executive coach.

To combat the threat of too-high expectations, Adams recommends building resiliency and addressing your fears and doubts that creep in when success doesn’t come quickly enough. “It will be absolutely necessary for the [high achievers] to manage this inner critic so they can keep the momentum in their business,” she adds.

For me, building resiliency meant using editor feedback to fuel my improvement instead of taking it personally. And addressing fears often included reminding myself of the progress I had already made and the positive feedback I had received.

Inability to stop and smell the roses

If you’re constantly racing from milestone to milestone, it may feel like you’re maximizing your productivity. But if you’re not careful, you could end up burning out instead — or in Elon Musk’s case, maybe a little worse.

“Overachievers rarely take time to appreciate and celebrate their current successes,” says Adams. “They tend to pass right by the present moment since they’re often forward focused and onto the next thing.”

But that tendency, which I’m ashamed to admit I have in spades, can throw off your balance and make building a business even more of an uphill climb. 

The first month I earned $10,000 freelancing while still working full time, I bought myself an Apple Watch to celebrate. But it wasn’t until months later that I realized what the milestone meant — I could really quit my job to focus solely on my business. If I had taken the time to think about it when it happened, I could have started the wheels turning sooner to get to that point.

To address this issue, Adams recommends taking time to give more attention to your important relationships. After all, your loved ones are the people who will give you the most support and keep you sane as you ride the rollercoaster.

And if you experience a big or small win, take a step back and enjoy it. You don’t need to take a week off or go on vacation. But taking a little time to savor your successes can help keep you grounded.

Impostor syndrome

Believe it or not, it’s possible to expect the world of yourself, and when you finally get there, feel like you don’t belong.

When I got my first full-time job as a writer, I was surrounded by writers and editors who were legit journalists, some of which had worked for the likes of CNN, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

I, on the other hand, had no formal writing experience or education. I had simply started a blog a year and a half earlier, and worked relentlessly to improve my writing skills. Being accepted for the job meant that I was good enough to work alongside some stellar journalists, and it was a credit to my efforts to get there.

But I still felt like it was only a matter of time before they realized I didn’t know what I was doing and threw me out. That paradox of successful people not internalizing their own success is called imposter syndrome. And it’s not just you.

After winning an Oscar for her role in The Accused, Jodie Foster said, “I thought it was a big fluke. The same way when I walked on the campus at Yale, I thought everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back.”

Even Maya Angelou admitted that every time she published a book, she’d think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

To avoid falling victim to impostor syndrome, here are some habits to practice:

  • Avoid comparing what you’ve accomplished with what you hope to yet accomplish.
  • Instead of comparing yourself with your peers who may have more experience or knowledge than you, think of all the ways you’ve earned a seat at the same table with them.
  • Separate your self-worth from what you assume others think about you.
  • Value the journey you’ve taken to get to where you are.

It can take time, and you may not always be successful, but acknowledging and working to address the issue by itself makes a difference.

It won’t all be roadblocks and self-reflection

High achievers may have some traits that make it difficult to succeed as an entrepreneur. But they also inherently have what it takes to get there.

“[High achievers] work hard, they’re driven, they have a strong vision, and they have no problem going the extra mile to achieve their goals,” says Adams. “They’re skilled, conscientious, and will work relentlessly to achieve the success they want.”

This means that you don’t need to be told to work harder, and your drive is a strong enough propellor to get you to where you want to be. The important thing is to make sure you’re channeling that energy in the most effective ways.

Some of the things Adams recommends doing to make that happen include:

  • Focusing on achievable goals based on the current stage of your business.
  • Staying in touch with your emotions to determine how you want to feel at each stage and whether reality matches your desires.
  • Scheduling downtime to avoid burning out or overextending yourself — make this a non-negotiable part of your planning.
  • Spending your time on the most important tasks instead of spreading yourself too thin.
  • Learning to delegate or outsource when necessary.

Building a business as a high achiever is challenging, especially if you’re not practicing self-awareness, so it’s crucial that you evaluate how your tendencies are helping or hurting your chances of success.

Get out of your business’s way

If you’re not experiencing the speed or level of success for your business that you expected, ask yourself, “Is it really a problem with my business or is it just me?” If you can be honest with yourself and it’s really your inner critic talking, take steps to address it, so you don’t end up being the reason your business fails.

Over time, as you play to your strengths and learn from your weaknesses, you’ll have a better chance of achieving the success you always knew you were capable of — and you’ll know that you belong there.

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Thank you for this article.

I definitely relate with the point you made on having. high expectations, I have experienced it and I have had to adjust the way I think.

This includes pacing my expectations because there are many factors in play when you start out on anything

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