Yet a common mistake is treating work like school. As CEO and author, Sallie Krawcheck points out, “Let’s not confuse what made us successful in school for what can make us successful in our careers.”
That’s because when you hold yourself to exacting standards — as many high-achievers do — you can get caught in the trap of perfectionism.
The result? Feeling perpetually frustrated, stressed, unacknowledged, or like you never measure up.
Here’s some signs an ‘Honor Student Hangover’ might be costing you:
You beat yourself up when you make a mistake
For you, a goof is really hard to rebound from — even if it doesn’t have a larger effect on your career standing.
Perfectionists experience shame, as opposed to guilt, over screwing up. Shame says, “I am bad” (which suggests a character flaw), whereas guilt says, “I did something wrong” (which suggests it’s in your control to fix or improve).
If something isn’t perfect, it’s not good enough
You insist on dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” on every single task, or else it just doesn’t sit right with you. That tunnel vision can stunt your ability to make decisions and move forward.
Attention to detail is obviously an important skill that makes you successful (even if you’re not being graded on it anymore). But there’s a difference between excellent and perfect. The latter does not exist.
You push yourself to work harder — not necessarily smarter
You’re never satisfied with yourself, most notably when you’re treating yourself to hard-earned, well-deserved downtime, which you probably view as wasteful.
This penchant to give your all to your career can come at the expense of your well-being, leaving you ripe for burnout.
You expect gold stars
In her book The Happiness Project, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin talks about her frustration with not receiving metaphorical gold stars for adult achievements. If you feel expectant of, and disappointed by not getting a pat on the back for your successes, you’re probably suffering from ‘Honor Student Hangover,’ too.
Here’s the thing: it’s great to have high standards, and even better to be able to actually hit them most of the time.
Besides, it’s simply not possible. It’s not how the working world, well, works. Trying to achieve the same “Gifted and Talented” student status in your job is a dream destined to go unfulfilled.
Here’s how you can hold on to high standards, but keep perfectionism in check.
1. Face up to the ironic consequences
Not only does having an honor student hangover from your adolescence into your adulthood drive you nuts with unrealistic expectations, it can actually erode your self-esteem and performance.
If you’re constantly falling short of where you think you should be, you’re never going to feel good enough. Over the long term, that feeling of inadequacy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: you’ll shirk new responsibilities, avoid taking risks, and otherwise stunt your professional growth all because of fear.
2. Consider multiple measures of success
As a student, you were graded on academic performance alone. In real life, how you define success is much broader and more within your control.
In fact, research shows that chasing after external motivators like a prestigious title or bigger paycheck won’t make you happier. Pursuing meaningful work and deep relationships, on the other hand, can result in authentic happiness.
3. Have some compassion for yourself
Remove “I wish” and “I should” from your vocabulary. Only say things to yourself that you would say to your close friend. Cut yourself some slack.
If you’ve had a life-long track record of achievement, carrying your honor student outlook into your professional life is something that probably happened naturally, and it’s not the easiest habit to break.
Start to separate the parts of that mentality that are productive from the ones that no longer serve you.
Then you can strive to continue succeeding without the weight of trying to reach an unreasonable bar.