I have never realized myself as particularly competent. In grade school, I consistently achieved good grades and was placed into gifted education programs. But I wasn’t some sort of prodigy – I liked to read and had a photographic memory. This didn’t make me smart, it made me lucky. So I coasted through the UK and US public education systems on luck and on guilt that I didn’t work as hard as some of my classmates.
When I began my first job after college, I was surrounded by colleagues who I deemed far smarter, far better, far more credible than myself. My company was full of people with advanced degrees, fluency in multiple languages, and a wealth of international experience. I knew it was due to my luck that I obtained a space amongst such smart people. I felt that it was unfair on their behalf that I too was now a part of them, when I was nothing in comparison to them. I was an imposter.
All standards are constructed, and while I am capable of appropriating different standards for different people and contexts, this is not something that I have thus far found success in applying to myself. I am constantly holding myself to a single high standard, one that is unchanging and unsustainable. This necessitates a fair amount of open acknowledgement from others for me to comprehend that something I have done is worthy of praise, that it is better, that it is a good thing. I seem to require (if not crave) tangible words of affirmation from other people to recognize that my own work is good and not simply the bare minimum. It took over a year for me to stop feeling like an imposter every time I walked through the office entrance – but it is only due to having an attentive, encouraging manager and a nurturing company culture that I now consider myself a good employee. Before, I was simply a standard one.
This feeling extends to multiple facets of my life – my self-esteem, romantic relationships, even hobbies that I pick up. Always moving forward, striving for more, striving for better, until I lose interest. Until I burn out. I drop yet another good thing, because what I did was not good enough, therefore it is a waste of time.
And so I have always understood my actions as average. To be clear, this isn’t the result of an unbearably restrictive upbringing or tiger parentage. My household simply unintentionally set a different standard than others. I say unintentionally because my parents, while for the most part supportive, have never been ones for open praise, my mother least of all so – hers was the stronger personality, so she set the tone for the entire household. There was a notable lack of verbal praise for our achievements, whether academic, athletic, or otherwise. A nonchalant acknowledgement of ‘you did a thing’, coupled with the ever-present unspoken expectation that the action should be repeatedly accomplished or you were less than. Unless I did something visibly noteworthy – something that came with frills, such as an exclusive winners’ event or awards ceremony – there was no need for them to supply recognition. My parents needed more than a plastic medal or trophy to validate our achievements, they needed the compliments and acknowledgement of strangers. Strangers whose compliments held more credibility in that passing moment than the total amalgamation of all my lifetime achievements strung together. I believe my parents naturally understand the presence of visible celebration as a required trait for a laudable action. If the action does not come with external praise or noteworthiness, then the action meant nothing. The action is simply the standard, and the standard is achievable by anybody.
Was I built this way or molded into it? Through whose lens am I always seeing my work? I am full of praise and benevolence towards the achievements of others, but I have failed to allow myself that same kindness. I must ease up on myself in this regard. This, like all things, is changing. With this recognition, I have made minor steps in the right direction and I am now capable of looking at a piece of work I have produced and feeling a small tinge of pride (most days). But it is a hard habit to break.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.