An Overachiever’s Cautionary Tale

This is definitely not a story I’m proud of. Realistically, I don’t even want to tell you, but I think you need to know. You’re headed down the same path as me and before you get too far, I want you to understand what’s ahead—exhaustion, pain, joy, and success. This, my friend, is an overachiever’s cautionary tale.

Will I ever move without pain again?

The pain came on both slowly and quickly, sounds strange but it’s very accurate. In the beginning, I thought maybe my neck hurt from sleeping on the bunk beds at the orphanage. Four months later, the pain was more intense so I started regularly visiting both the chiropractor and massage therapist. For my part, I did some exercises, changed how I slept, and went about life.

Another 4 months passed with dull, nagging pain until the day things changed, the day when the pain intensified to new levels. Within a week I could barely move my neck at all. Confined to my recliner with my essential work items, I tried to keep up with life. Who has time to slow down?

Eventually, I couldn’t make the slightest movement without excruciating pain. Worse yet, sitting still was also unbearable. At one point, I began to wonder if I would wake up paralyzed because the symptoms were intensifying.

I was scared. What would happen if I couldn’t move? Who would take care of my family? How would I work?

One after another, medical professionals shared the same diagnosis—chronic, cumulative stress was disabling me. At 38, my body reached its breaking point and quit on me.

The noble build-up to a shutdown

Reaching the point where your body takes over and does what your mind and willpower refuse is not a quick process. For more than a decade (let’s be real, closer to 2 decades), I’ve been using every bit of me to the point of exhaustion.

“Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48

Early on, I was chasing pride and affirmation. Everyone wants to be appreciated, but I also felt a responsibility to be my best and do as much as possible. If I could do something, I should because to do otherwise would be irresponsible and let people down. The older I got, the more I started to think God expected the same from me.

Every opportunity, every gift, every skill—everything felt connected to my ability to perform and prove my appreciation. There were no limits to how much I would work and give to fulfill my responsibilities.

Photo By Andre Govia On Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

To whom much is given

I cried and cursed, trying to release my anger and frustration. My feelings begged to be released, but the relief was mixed with guilt.

Other people dream of the life I find overwhelming. As our plans fall through, the pressure increases. I can’t take it all. But, I feel guilty because I see the faces of families in the Guatemala City ghettos. How can I complain about my life when they don’t have clean water or a bathroom? They sort through garbage every day just to survive. How can I complain about having too much when they have so little?

For 3 years, I’ve prayed for clarity and a simpler life. In my mind, if I can just have less and do less, our lives become more of what we want.

God has given us these opportunities and doesn’t see fit to take them away. What do I do? How do you step back when life keeps pressing forward?

Small changes matter

I keep looking for big changes but so far big changes haven’t happened. Instead, life has gotten more complicated, not less.

Sitting in a recliner, afraid I’d wake up paralyzed brought me to the end of myself. I can’t push through everything anymore. The physical work, the mental fatigue, and the emotional strain are too much.

At the end of myself, I have nowhere else to go. When I can’t make it on my own, I finally start listening to God because these weren’t his expectations after all. Instead, it was my misguided guilt and unrealistic expectations. I believed working harder could impress my husband, my family, our employees, my friends, even God.

A healthier way

You can only change how you live your life. No one else will set boundaries and create priorities for you.

  • Find someone who will listen without trying to “fix” everything.
  • Allow those closest to ask questions and help you process.
  • Allow people to help.
  • Make small steps to slow down.
  • Choose the few things that are most important in your life.

Don’t make my mistakes. You are created to do great things, even if it requires hard work and sacrifice. Living your purpose doesn’t mean doing everything alone.

Be Encouraged as you wrestle for faith.

Enjoy the full Encouraged series

Not all Who Wonder about Faith are Lost
Release Unnecessary Expectations
An Overachiever’s Cautionary Tale

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