When you’re a high achiever, others are likely to see you as doing well – even exceptionally well. But all the striving that comes with being an achiever comes with a cost.

It makes life stressful. The pressure of constantly doing and achieving can make it hard to enjoy life.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to keep striving to achieve greater success and, at the same time, find more joy in your life? To keep improving, perform better and achieve your goals without derailing or, worse yet, burning out?

Well, there is.

When I was about to leave home to start college, my mother pulled me aside and gave me this pearl of wisdom: “Remember to avoid the 3Cs”.

She explained that I must avoid unnecessary comparison, competition, and conflict. And that this would help me to be happier and more successful in my college experience.

That advice served me well then and it continues to serve me even now – I still have to remind myself of the 3Cs! – and it makes my life and performance better.

So let’s talk about each of the three Cs to avoid…

  • Comparison
  • Competition
  • Conflict

Comparison is the thief of joy

As an achiever, you want to be the best. To get the best grades, be at the top 10% of your cohort at work, add the most value, be recognized as the best performer in the group. That involves comparing yourself to others.

It’s all too easy to compare yourself to the best in each category of your work and life. Like being the best mother and the best candidate for the job and having the cleanest house and being the fittest person in the gym and …  the list goes on.

This sets an impossibly high standard because you’re comparing yourself to the best qualities in others.

For example, I was pretty good with a spreadsheet but not as good as Sasha the computer whiz. I was good with clients but not as successful as Chris who was our number one revenue producer. I learned to speak up in meetings but couldn’t quite muster the gravitas that came naturally to Alisha.

Despite my achievements, I was constantly disappointed with myself and pushed myself to try harder. The problem is ultimately, this kind of comparison will lead to burnout if you’re not careful.

Instead, practice gratitude and appreciate yourself.

Which brings us to the second “C”…

Competition breeds a scarcity mindset

Especially the kind that leads to a “zero sum” mentality where either you win or they win. For example, when you’re out running and see someone ahead of you, the competitive instinct is to speed up and see if you can pass them. Or having to win an argument, even if it’s with your boss or your client.

Competing with others makes it harder to see people as collaborators. And instead of teaming up to rise higher together, you might waste mental energy trying to outdo your colleagues. And you might even make enemies without needing to. Instead, adopt an abundance mindset.

Unnecessary competition can also be with yourself. There’s a good side to this – of course you want to keep improving and challenging yourself to bring your best effort. But too much of competing with yourself can also drive you into negative space where you’re never satisfied and constantly self-critical. Ultimately, this negative self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that hurts your performance.

One way to stop yourself from going too far is to notice what you’re saying to yourself and ask whether this is something you would say to your best friend. If not, then don’t say it to yourself either!

And this leads to the third C…

Conflict that doesn’t make you stronger

Unnecessary conflict often stems from the need to be right. You’ve done all the research and thought things through. You’re an expert in the area and you expect to be right. So any challenge to your views can feel personal. Like someone’s challenging your identity.

So you get into a debate and sound defensive. You might even say things you regret later. This is the crux of unnecessary conflict. It wasn’t useful, it didn’t resolve anything. It in fact created more problems.

The more senior you become, the more your success comes from working with people. Which means ongoing conflicts will be a distraction to building the kind of trusted relationships you need to achieve greater results than you can alone.

For example, my colleague who had conflicts with people in several other departments, which meant there were parts of the organization he started to avoid. He even frowned on his team members talking to their counterparts in those areas. This made it hard to grow his business, and he also developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. Neither of which was helpful to his career.

So instead of engaging in unnecessary conflict, learn to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

But how do you tell when the 3Cs are unnecessary?

The litmus test I use is whether it contributes to your sense of well-being or detracts from it. So if saying, “why can’t I be more like Susan?” is making a comparison that makes you feel bad, that’s unnecessary. On the other hand, comparing your situation to the worst-case scenario which thankfully didn’t happen brings up gratitude, which is a good thing.

Competing with a peer to see who gets to the corner office first could fuel your motivation, or it could lead to desperate behavior that derails your career. And competing with yourself can be taken too far.

And allowing tensions to build up inside you in the form of internal conflict will eat away at you and serve no good purpose. Whereas working through a conflict to find a resolution could strengthen your relationship and build trust. 

Just make sure you don’t let your achiever instincts run wild 

As with so many things in life, it’s a question of degree. Even your greatest strengths taken to extremes can become weaknesses, and being an achiever is no different.

So it’s everything in moderation. Live consciously and remember to check in with yourself about the 3Cs.

It’s up to you to choose a happy life

As they say, happiness is a choice. And as an achiever, you can make your life and career happier and more successful when you avoid the 3Cs:

  • Avoid unnecessary comparison: comparison is the thief of joy, and you deserve to live a joyful life.
  • Avoid unnecessary competition: focus on abundance and not a zero-sum mindset.
  • Avoid unnecessary conflict: let go of being right and learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

How about you? Which of the 3Cs will most help you live a happier life and have a more successful career?

Leave a comment below – I’d love to know.