The Curse of Being a High Achiever

By: Third Space

I’m a firstborn Asian son. I was always a high achiever! In primary school, I was the annoying kid who asked the teacher for more work.

In high school, I would get 99 per cent in an exam, and fixate on the one mark that was missing. While my friends were busy partying, I was busy studying. I wanted to get into medicine, and I achieved that, in the top 1 per cent of the state. Along the way, it wasn’t only important that I succeeded, but that other people also saw my success …

But here’s the problem with being a high achiever: you’re only ever as good as your last success. It can make you proud as well as insecure, at the same time. There’s always another mountain to climb, another exam, another assessment. Once I had become a doctor, it still wasn’t enough. I needed to become a surgeon to be seen as ‘somebody’ in the medical community and my own eyes.

And here’s the other thing: you remember your failures more than your successes. For example, I must have attended over 100 hospital ward rounds. But there’s only one ward round that I remember. The consultant put up the X-ray of the hip that I had operated on, and the screws and plates had been put in the wrong places.

Why High Achievement is a CurseMan wearing Einstein mask

I know that being a high achiever is a curse. I was always wanting to be somebody in my own eyes. But what could be done? I had grown up in a Christian family, going to church. I had known about Jesus since I was a kid. I had known he was an amazing guy – the Son of God who did miracles. I had known that he loved me so much he died for me on a cross. But maybe what I didn’t realise was this. Jesus was perfect, so I didn’t have to be. He was the high achiever, so I didn’t have to be.

It all came to a head some years ago. I had a good job in medicine. I was successful, but I had to make a decision. Should I continue to work in full-time medicine (which was the perfect job in the eyes of Asians) or go into ministry, telling people about Jesus. Not only was medicine the perfect job in the eyes of Asians, but it also paid the bills. It’s the kind of profession that gets you extra points in conversations at dinner parties or when you go and see the bank manager. Everybody sees you as successful or as somebody, as a high achiever.

I struggled. But it was a turning point for me. I came to know in my heart that if I put my trust in Jesus as Lord, I wasn’t just trusting that he would save me from my sins and get me to heaven, but it was his achievements that made me somebody. All my achievements were actually worth nothing compared to what he had done for me. I didn’t need them anymore. I didn’t need to be a doctor anymore, or to see myself as perfect, or for others to see me as perfect. Instead, I had Jesus. I could be humble and secure. I could trust that Jesus had achieved everything for me that I could ever possibly want or need. In his eyes, I was somebody.

Ever since I made that decision to give up medicine, my friends have noticed the change in me. My former roommate noticed I didn’t drive like an idiot anymore. I didn’t try and dominate the conversation at dinner parties anymore. In other words, I didn’t realise it before, but being a high achiever was not only a curse to myself, it was a curse to my friends as well! It was all coming out of my insecurity. But since that time when I fully surrendered my life to Jesus, I have been more truly secure. I don’t need ‘success’ anymore to be happy.

Matthew 11:28 is a key verse for me. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ He said come to me! We don’t need be perfect, we can come to him, weary and burdened. And Jesus will give us rest from all our striving.

Article supplied with thanks to Third Space.

About the Author: Dr Sam Chan is an Australian author, theologian, public speaker, medical doctor and karaoke enthusiast.

Feature image: Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash