Motivated, or Overachieving?
Everyone has the occasional classmate who hands in their work a week ahead of time, stapled neatly and perhaps even enclosed in a shiny new plastic folder adorned with the title and date of the assignment in is-that-handwritten-it’s-so-neat-it-looks-like-it-was-typed handwriting.
The teacher accepts the assignment with either an “Of course you did it early, I would expect nothing less” or a somewhat annoyed reprimand (“It’s not due until next Tuesday.”). Behind his/her back, the student’s back is often pelted with a succession of eye-rolls and whispers of “Ugh, he/she’s such an overachiever, it’s so annoying…” Ask this same student to define him/herself, and chances are that he/she will reply that they are simply “motivated” (even if they do not actually admit this, you can rest assured that they are thinking it, even if they respond that “actually, I think I’m somewhat of a rebel when it comes to school.”). Such students’ refusal to classify themselves as overachievers, preferring instead “motivated,” are shying away from the traditionally negative connotation “overachiever” implies and instead embracing the more acceptable “motivated,” which does not have the same stigma and instead is often linked to athletic achievement.
What then, is implicit in the term “overachiever” that enables its use as a behind-the-back (or even face-to-face) insult? Do we not all struggle to achieve, to accomplish our goals? When do one’s achievements reach the point where continuing would be exceeding anyone’s expectations? Indeed, why does the “motivated” student not proudly wave his flag emblazoned with the word “overachiever” instead? In my personal experience, being declared an overachiever in front of a roomful of teenage classmates is not an entirely pleasant ordeal. The word is often accompanied by a sneer or with a smirk, but sometimes, less obviously, a hint of jealousy. It is this covetous undertone that almost, but not quite, nullifies the pain of the intended jeer. And yet, it is not enough to redeem the word. “Overachiever” carries the baggage “over” lends it—the implied sense that you have done too much, gone too far; the notion that your extra work was so extra that it passed the “beneficial” marker and sailed right on past to “just plain annoying to both the teacher, who will begrudgingly give you the points extra credit but not many brownie points, and the students, who are jealous of your clear competence while at the same time loath to actually put in the effort themselves and thus miffed at you for having done so.
” The student would prefer to think of him/herself as the epitome of an excellent student and attribute his/her excessive work to his/her “motivation.” For what does “motivated” connote? Linked with positive terminology the likes of which include “stamina,” “spirit,” “determination,” and “inspire,” the “motivated” student would appear to be competing in an intellectual division of the Olympics. And yet, despite the obvious difference in their implications, the self-professed “motivated” student could genuinely be a closet overachiever, going over the top for all his/her work, while the accused “overachiever” is nothing more than a motivated student, driven by nothing more than the abject desire to do well and willing to put in the time and effort to do so. Essentially, the choice lies within the student: to overachieve or not to overachieve; to find the motivation to do well and be driven by it, or to sit back and accuse others of “overachievement” in an attempt to guise their own inability to achieve.