The Need To Achieve

By Tracey Turner

A beautiful woman came into work on Monday night. Exasperated. She was on the phone. "I won't be home tonight ... no...sorry... it's going to be a long night". 

I sensed that she was in need of more than a take-away dinner, and on tentatively asking if she was going to be working late, got a run down of how terrible she felt juggling three under 5's, with a court case she'd been working on for 10 months, with a sick child who needed to see a specialist ("whennn!? Am I a terrible mother!?"). I met her eyes and immediately knew. That was what my future used to look like.

There are a million reasons why we work so hard we don't have time for life anymore. We can sip on all of the organic cold pressed juices in the planet, but if we are running from something it will eventually catch up with us.

My world came crashing down a couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Aside from a variety of crippling physical side effects I had been desperately trying to ignore for years, it came with a mountain of grief. So much grief at losing the life I could have had. I was convinced I would be happy if I worked hard to achieve "things". A house. A car. Holidays. Designer clothes. How dare it take that all away from me?

The need to convince myself should have been evidence enough that I was on a dangerous trajectory to rock bottom. 

But down in the abysse of illness I was confronted by a starting realisation. My need to achieve, my desire to one day tick the boxes on all of what society deems normal, was a result of deep rooted unhappiness. A life of feeling obligated to pursue a "professional" career because I could. Who was I to turn down university when I was so talented? So driven? I had the scholarships. The support. But this was intrinsically linked to a deep seated feeling of inadequacy. 

To avoid those feelings I worked harder and harder... and harder. I kept achieving more and more. Until one day my body physically couldn't keep up with me.  

So why do we work so hard that we don't have time to see our kids, or our husband, or we end up physically ill? Because we don't want time to meet ourselves.

Because we are terrified. Terrified of letting ourselves be "noone". I look around, and I see intelligent people consumed by the need to be more than they presently are. Driven by fear of being out competed. "If I don't go in on Saturday, my colleagues will, and I'll be behind". 

Not everyone is driven by this. But this is my story. 

As I finish my law degree I am going to embark on at least 6 months of being "noone" of achieving "nothing" and preventing myself from committing to anything with a definable outcome/achievement/status at the end of it. 

It'll just be me meeting myself for the first time. Because as I realised on Monday. Some people are never forced to meet themselves. 

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