High performers are hard on themselves. They hold very high standards of performance and conduct. They do not settle for half-ass. They put everything into what they do. They think how you do one thing is how you do anything so you better put it all into that one thing. And the next. Then, the next. High performers are hard on themselves because that’s how they were brought up. A’s were expected. Exceptional sport play was also expected. And if any performance was lackluster, it was critiqued and then coached to improvement. High performers are all about getting better in the areas that matter.
The dark side to high performance is harsh self-criticism and self-talk. Few talk about this. The inner critic of the high performer is vocal, often chirping away like a nagging mother-in-law. It can constantly say negative, destructive things like, “You’re not good enough” or “You suck at this” or “Why don’t you just give up?” High performers have to overcome this negative self-talk and learn to ignore the inner critic because it is never worth listening to. It is always wrong, and it is not there to serve you. But high performers have difficulty overcoming the inner critic because it works in concert with the harsh self-criticism and the negative self-talk. Some of them never overcome the noise and forever succumb to it. Despite their great talent, they cannot beat the inner critic. This is sad, but it doesn’t have to be this way. They may or may not realize you can overcome the harsh self-criticism and negative self-talk with positive self-talk and constructive criticism and positive feedback loops and coaching. Harsh criticism and negative self-talk are not keys to high performance. They are unfortunate instances and not needed to succeed. Some high performers get so tied to their negative self-talk and harsh critiques that they do not see the light on the other side. They’re succeeding despite the wildly negative criticism. This takes tremendous strength and will.
Another dark aspect for high performers is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome happens when people don’t feel they belong where they are professionally, that they’re not good enough, that they’ll be found out. This feeling happens surprisingly often with high performers. They’ve worked hard. They’ve got the grades. They’ve even got the experience. They deserve to be where they are and yet they feel the opposite. They may even feel guilty to be where they are despite the work they’ve already put in. This may sound ridiculous to the uninitiated, but it happens. Deservability is elusive. Imposter syndrome can be worked out through talking with a coach or trusted advisor. It typically comes from a place where people aren’t sure of themselves professionally and simply need someone to talk to about it. They need to find that sense of belonging that we all must have for comfort.
Despite the striving, the competing, and the victories, high performers still struggle like anyone else. Only their struggles can often be internal within the self. They’ll often beat themselves up, wondering why they have thoughts that they do or why they’re not better than they already are. They’re already good, and yet they have difficulty with controlling certain aspects of their career or personal life like anyone else does.
As you get to know people, you come to realize that everyone is fighting a battle that you no nothing about. While this is usually the case, what is most personal is also most general. Everyone is fighting a battle you no nothing about. Which means that we’re all in this together. Striving. Fighting. Competing. Competing against ourselves and our own negative thinking. As we acknowledge each others’ struggles, we gain empathy. We feel for our friends and co-workers. Many of us have gone through similar struggles and made it through to the other side. We can be there for others, offering guidance and support and advice. We can help coach them through the tough times just like others did for us. We can work through the struggles together because we’re not alone in facing these battles. With each battle we win, we gain new strength we did not have before.