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Is Overachievement a Threat to Your Mental Health?


It got me thinking. That recent New York Times article by Frank Bruni (April 11, 2015). …teenage suicides in Palo Alto, California…pressures to succeed among young people…Center for Disease Control data showing an increase in suicides among young people between ages 10 and 24 in 2013 .

An underlying factor implied in these tragic events was overachievement pressure for some high school students in California . But is it any different in other cities, schools, and homes – where the carrot of the golden idol of material and scholastic success is dangled by ambitious families who pass perfectionistic attitudes and pressures on to their offspring?

Suicide has many complex underlying dynamics and triggers. Individuals besides teenagers tragically end their lives. Many people live chronically with depression and anxiety – including performance anxiety. This is complex. It can be treated.

But is the golden idol of success a driving force behind the pressures that urges high standards as equivalent to perfection? I believe achievement-anxiety contributes mightily.  I have seen this dynamic in many of the individuals from various occupations (business, academia, the arts, public speakers, sports) whom I treat for performance anxiety.

“Perfection” is striven for at all emotional costs. A high price for this impossible pursuit is diminished appreciation for intrinsic competence and enjoyment. Omnipotence is the goal.   The quest for perfection can result in anxiety and depression which become paralyzing emotional companions– not as tragic and dramatic as suicide, but severely life-altering and self-esteem diminishing nevertheless.

It is not how many awards you win, how high your salary, how impressive your title and graduate school, but how you find pleasure in reaching goals every day. Pleasure is an internal reward that money, status, and prestige cannot buy. High self-esteem is an antidote for perfection- pressure and performance anxiety.


Your thoughts on performance anxiety and perfection are welcome. Please write to me at


photo by VikasDhiman

  1. Lois Roberts 7 years ago

    Off the top of my head, the thoughts which come to mind are, I wonder what the ethnic breakdown is (mentioning of tiger mom) of these suicides. Also, are these children an active part of a religion. Also, how far are they generationally from the immigrant people in their family, one, generation, two generations? Or are they of the immigrant population. I have no access to this data so I guess I’ll just have to wonder.

    There is a certain arrogance which presumes that human beings are capable of perfection. I remember my neighbor Bruce, in Plainfield, NJ. Bruce was an engineer who would walk up to the Netherwood train station every morning looking like he stepped out of GQ, and also a
    serious alcoholic, a serious drunk, drink ’till you drop on the floor every night sometimes in your own vomit kind of drunk, who loved his wife and children more than himself, and when she threatened to leave if he didn’t go to AA, he went. Every day, sometimes twice a day. It was there that he learned many things, but one of them was the validity of half-way decent. One weekend he was painting the porch and i exclaimed that he was doing a perfect job. He smiled and said he was just aiming for half-way decent. As you can imagine that had quite an effect on me. This happened more than half a century ago.

    Now that I remember this story and remember the days when I accompanied his wife to alan on and AA meetings I remember how it opened up a whole new way of thinking and feeling. It may have saved my life.

  2. julie nagel 7 years ago

    Lois, Thank you for sharing your ideas and feelings. I am happy if what I wrote made an impression on you and that you took time to write. I always enjoy what you have to say.


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