When did “overachiever” become a pejorative to be spat at people while they balance studying, work, and extracurricular commitments?

I started seeing this culture in high school. If I got a high test score, answered a question in a class where participation wasn’t evaluated, or committed to a bunch of extracurriculars that I was genuinely passionate about, I’d occasionally get called “overachiever” as if it’s a bad thing to do well in school or participate in activities that I like.

I know I'm an overachiever, and I'm notAnd the o-word truly was meant as an insult. It was spoken in a harsh tone, sometimes accompanied by an eye roll.

Seeing other people be successful can be intimidating, but using “overachiever” as an insult may discourage students from setting and reaching academic and personal goals.

It’s happened to me: I’ve felt pressured to not speak up in class or to do less than my best on an assignment, to do “just enough” instead of fully participating in school. But that’s a waste of time and money–I have the opportunity to get a college education, so I should get as much out of it as possible.

Everyone has different priorities, and if school isn’t one of yours, that’s fine. But disparaging others’ successes isn’t fair; hardworking students shouldn’t be mocked for their impressive dedication and time management. It’s time we change this culture and instead congratulate people for their work ethic and encourage others to reach their full potential.

This post is part of my April A to Z Challenge. For more All Things College posts, click here 


35 thoughts on “Overachieving

  1. Well said! I am an overachiever and I am fine with it, unless it causes me to have a burnout. I had it a couple of times over the past years, and since then, I try to pace myself better. But I still do a lot and I enjoy being organized and tackle things the way I do. Working on things I like and making sure that I balance them with tasks I must do but enjoy less, is important to me. I am not in school anymore but school taught me a lot in terms of organization and juggling things. Thriving isn’t a bad thing and whether your priority is school or work or family, discouraging people’ successes is wrong. I don’t like how “overachiever” has become a bad word, as if we were meant to be people who despite/badmouth others. No, we aren’t like this (I mean some of us can be but this behavior has nothing to do with overachieving).


      • Same here! Without being busy and productive, my sanity goes poof. That’s why I always try to get something done almost every day (working from home, weekends and week tend to get all jumbled in my life)


        • Mine too! I create work for myself on the weekend–either starting new projects, or using that time to get ahead or catch up on something I need/want to do. Weekends are just another workday for me, although with a bit more freedom in timing.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve come completely around on this topic. I used to think that folks who criticize and disparage others for their successes were just not being fair.
    Now I just feel sorry for them, because more often than not it’s only by tearing down others to bring them back down to their own underacheiving level that they can feel better about themselves,
    Teachers pet, attention hog, trying to make others look bad, and yes lately overachiever.
    I mean really, how much acheivement is enough before criticizing someone for doing too well?
    Of course it’s one thing if your success comes at the expense of or through the exploitation of others. But being called an overacheiver as if it was a dirty word for just being disciplined, working hard and smart, and having success? It’s just sad that anyone would even think that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Trying to undermine people who are more successful than you is not a new concept, you’re right about that. And I agree that it’s sad. It shows you a lot about a person when they’re willing to put someone down for doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, I noticed that in schools growing up and even to this day. Which is why I firmly believe American schools, in general, do not encourage kids’ intellectual, creative and academic development, to their detriment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always had the attitude, “I want my A”. I’d figure what I needed to do and do that. I work/worked hard to achieve my goal. I could never be accused of being a teacher’s pet because I asked to many questions, was too opinionated, was very social, and may have had a wee bit of an attitude.

    I got flack for making good grades and working hard. That always baffled me. Like I was doing something wrong because I made things happen academically. I’m so grateful that young K. Renae P. had that wee bit of an attitude because she’d happily tell others where they could go and what they could do.

    I did ask my teachers to never share my grades. I never liked that. It was nobody’s business what my grades were good or bad. It didn’t inspire my friends to work harder, and it made me mad.

    My big problem was my friends & classmates wanted me to cheat because I was that “overachiever”. I was always happy to study (20% studying, 80% hanging out) with my friends & classmates or edit their papers. But straight up cheating was something I was not on board with. I didn’t give up my papers, let you copy my homework, write your paper no matter the compensation, or concoct some way to cheat on a test. I worked hard for me not to help someone get by who didn’t even try. Puh-lease!

    I also worked hard so I could go to whatever party was happening Friday. “Get your work done. Then you can play as much as you want”, my Dad taught me that. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I luckily never had anyway encourage me to cheat, but every now and then a teacher would congratulate the highest score on the test, and occasionally it was me. People would get upset in classes where there was a curve that I (or someone else–I won’t pretend it was always or even almost always me) set high. I understand that, because it’s hard when someone else’s success interferes with your own, but that responsibility isn’t on them.


  5. Hear, hear. Thankfully my group of friends were all overachievers, and we celebrated that about ourselves. Life is too short and there’s tons to do! Plus, learning. It’s awesome!


    • Most of my friends were overachievers too. Frankly it could be annoying (one of them would say she “failed” when she got an A-) but for the most part we encouraged each other and celebrated our successes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You raise a very, very good point – we see it in UK schools as well. I was lucky, I went to a school where achievement was encouraged and appreciated by staff and pupils, but in others, I know being a brain was a reason to be bullied. Thankfully, that attitude did not make it to university, or at least it didn’t to mine, everyone was there to learn and it seemed pointless to waste that.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles
    Wittegen Press


    • It was much more prevalent in high school, but hasn’t completely disappeared at the college level. I wonder if there are cultures where this ISN’T present, since you say it’s true in the UK too.


  7. I agree completely! I guess people that look down upon “over achievers” are just jealous or intimidated by them and the only way they can make themselves feel better is by demeaning them. The worst part about it is that some of those “over achievers” may not have the best self esteem and it might cause them to not put their best foot forward which effects not only their marks in school but could effect the way they interact in the career world as well.


  8. What drove me crazy was the attitude that somehow you made life more difficult for them because you chose to do your best. Like “you blew the curve!” or “you’re making us look bad!” They can’t stand that you studied hard, were prepared for class and for exams, and put forth more effort than they did and got what you worked for (a better grade than they got), as if it’s somehow your fault that they earned a bad grade.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I understand being frustrated when there’s a curve and someone set a high standard, but it’s definitely not the high-scorer’s that others were unprepared. It especially makes no sense to blow off a high achiever when it doesn’t impact everyone else (i.e. no curve).


  9. Fortunately in the history department we were mostly bookish people who wanted good grades… But even with them, there was kind of a culture of not saying you worked hard on something. Even if you DID spend forever on a paper, it was just “the thing” to talk about how it wasn’t very good and you slapped it together at the last minute. I think people are afraid to say they worked hard, in case they don’t do well. Much easier to blow it off like it never meant anything in the first place.


  10. I used to wear “over-achiever” as a badge of honor. My choice as to how I reacted to those less fortunate, or more lazy than me :-) Thanks for the post.


  11. I hear you! In a world were everyone aspires to be successful it sure is rotten to see how some want to discourage those who are really reaching for the stars.

    I was never labeled overachiever at school, or not at least that I noticed it. With teenagers it is all about fitting in. I did not care to fit in, so…


  12. Maybe you just need better friends? Or different friends? Honestly, I feel the opposite, like if I’m not excelling at every part of life I’m being left behind! I guess I just have some pretty ambitious people around me.


    • Usually it wasn’t my friends, it was classmates (more than acquaintances, but not quite friend status). People would brag about how little they tried on something. Truly awful.


  13. “Overachiever” – when you think about it, what does it even mean? Is there supposed to be some kind of limit on what you can achieve in your life? It’s true that there’s a lot of pressure to blend in – I wanted to put my head on my desk when one of my high school teachers announced my top mark in front of the class. I did well, but I learned not to talk about it. Otherwise you’re considered a bragger. My friends didn’t care about it because they were achievers too, and it didn’t stop me from going after things, but sometimes it made things harder than it should have been. Great post!


  14. Pingback: On The #AtoZChallenge | Victim to Charm

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