Last week I was training for a new job and during a break the subject of majors and minors and career ambitions came up, as it often does in college aged work settings, and a trainer made a comment that made me supremely uncomfortable.
“Well aren’t you an over achiever!” he said.
It was condescending and also not what he meant. What he meant to say was “shouldn’t you be looking for a husband? Why are you wasting time/money/effort on two majors that don’t have high earning potentials?”
And he said it that way because I am a woman. Any man with my ambitions would be congratulated. I watch them being congratulated being advised and admired. They are selfless for their efforts whereas I am dismissed.
Women who have high hopes in our society are often dismissed as dreamers. We call them “over achievers” as if looking to become more that what is generally expected is a bad thing. Being an over achiever should be admired. I don’t just say that because I am often labeled as an over achiever, but because I am often made to feel like dirt for being an over achiever.
lets dissect the label. (** all etymology information comes from the Online Etymology Dictionary**)
‘Over’ is a word element meaning “beyond, above, upon, in, across, past; on high,” this element started to be used as a prefix to alter nouns like abundance, achiever, and confidence to change their connotation from positive to negative. thus, what could be called a surplus is now an over-abundance. “beyond, above, upon, in, across, past; on high,” are now bad things to be.
‘Achiever’ is a noun derived from the verb achieve which is “to finish, accomplish, complete,”therefore one who is an achiever is one who is capable of finishing, accomplishing, and completing tasks. When you put the two together over achiever is used to describe one who finishes tasks above the standards usually expected or found to be acceptable. But this isn’t a good thing. Really???!?!? It isn’t a good this to exceed expectations? It isn’t a good thing to do more than the minimum required?
I ask you, What sort of messed up society do we live in?
I take classes during the summer, I work year round, I look for opportunities and experiences that will enrich my life for the sake of self-improvement not to impress others. It still matters, however, that society is disrespectful of my ambition.
I remember a sociology professor telling us a story about an experiment he participated in as an undergraduate. Participants were put into groups and told to select a leader then complete several tasks. At the end, all of the participants were asked to describe the leader. When the leader was a man they described him as CEO-like, organized, driven, and focused. When a woman was the leader they described her as Mom-like, nurturing, Type A, and perfectionists.
The words used to describe the men are, arguably, more positive than those used for the women however they describe nearly identical behavior.
By my own account I am moderately successful. I am usually able to achieve what I set my mind to. This has the side effect of making me someone who is intimidating, so I’ve been told. And its hard to make friends in a competitive setting when you are known as intimidating, twice so if you are also a woman.
Basically it sucks.
Sometimes I feel pressure to downplay my accomplishments or to omit information in order to blend in. This is similarly disheartening because I put a lot of work and passion into all that I do. However I’ll submit to these pressures for the sake of fitting in.
I’m proud of my accomplishments so when people, like the trainer at work, call me an over achiever I’m going to smile and say “proud of it!” even when their tone suggests I shouldn’t be.
I am going to change my mindset about being an over achiever because I am a woman and not only do I want to live in a society where it is a good thing to exceed expectations, I deserve to live in a society where it is a good thing to exceed expectations.
This is a societal problem. This is gender discrimination deeply ingrained. This is a way of thinking that should be abolished.
Rise successful women and reclaim the label “over achiever”.