The "What Next" Dilemma: Confessions of an Overachiever

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“All I know anymore is that I want to be a lawyer.”  I wrote this in my journal back in 2008 when I was in college. “Law school starts tomorrow.  All I want to do is be a lawyer for the CIA,” I wrote in 2009. “I’m that much closer to being a lawyer!” I wrote in 2011. “I’m ready to be in the world making a difference through the law!”  I wrote later that year. “I feel like law school has taken over my soul, personality, and individualism,” I wrote in 2012. “Well I graduate law school in two would think I would be ecstatic but I’m miserable....meeting goals has NOTHING TO DO WITH HAPPINESS,” I wrote on May 17, 2012.  These thoughts are personal, yes, but I share them with you for an important reason:  to point out that when you’re an overachiever, it’s difficult to be happy with what you’ve accomplished. 

When I was in middle school, I met my best friend to this day, Amy.  When we talked about our hopes and dreams at the age of twelve I told her, “I’m going to be a lawyer.”  She still reminds me of this conversation.  And it’s true.  From as young as I can remember all I ever wanted to be in life was an attorney.  Every day I spent in college I spent thinking about the next step:  law school.  In fact, I only applied to two law schools because I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I’ll never forget the phone call I got from my dad back in 2009, “Callie, there’s a letter here from South Texas College of Law...”  “REALLY?! WHAT DOES IT SAY?!” “Let me read it ‘Dear Callin Kerr, we regret to inform you....’ JUST KIDDING! You got in princess, congratulations!” (Side bar:  seriously dad?!).  And just like that I was in the law school of my choice pursuing the only dream I’d ever had in my whole, entire, life. 

And in law school I worked hard.  Can we flash back to Elle Woods for a minute?  “What like it’s hard?”  Um, yes Elle Woods, it IS hard.   And as you can see from my above journal entry, it essentially took over my life for three years.  My friends will tell you I completely neglected them.  I turned into a book hermit.  A disciplined machine who went to bed at exactly 11 pm in order to wake up at 7 am, the exactly amount of sleep necessary, to study for at least 12 hours per day.  And I studied.  And studied.  And the reality is, the hard work paid off.  I was able to graduate top of my class and with a national championship in our advocacy program.  I had reached the goal I had dreamed about my entire life.

But as soon as I accomplished my goal, this little voice in my head popped up “What now, Callie?”  And I had no response.  I was dumbfounded.  What am I in this world without a goal?  Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain where do you go?  Down? Absolutely not! But to plateau doesn’t sound interesting either.  Today I am a practicing attorney.  I am an officer in the United States Army and a Judge Advocate, a lawyer in the Army. (Sidebar #2:  I interviewed with the CIA but apparently I wasn’t their type).  My work is ever-so challenging; physically, mentally, socially, you name it.  And I love it.  But that little voice still creeps up every so often . . . “What now, Callie?”

To be an overachiever.  Le sigh.  Out of curiosity I googled over-achiever and the mastermind of google spit out “Overachiever is achieving superior results through excessive effort.” Excessive effort. Well, that in and of itself sounds exhausting!  No one could keep that up for their entire life!  So, why are we always pushing, always looking to the next milestone?

Let me say, I believe it is absolutely vital to have goals in life and to continuously challenge yourself.  But on the other hand, we cannot goal ourselves to death.  The risk in doing so is losing the present moment.  When we are constantly thinking about events in the future we lose the beauty of the present.  And we can’t keep unconsciously thinking “oh, well once I achieve XYZ I will be happy.”  Because the reality is if you push hard enough, you will achieve XYZ, but then what!?  Then you are an achiever with a sense of emptiness that another goal cannot fulfill.

My friends, is it possible to live in the present moment while still striving for betterment?  I believe so.   And I challenge you to take care of yourself while pursuing your goals.  Love yourself.  Be your own best friend. If your best friend called you and told you about her latest “dilemma” that rings true of an overachiever what would you tell her?  I know I would tell her that she’s my best friend, that all she can do is her best, and that I love her not matter what.  Tell yourself that.  You deserve it.

With Love,

Callie Kerr - Guest Blogger 

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