The cost of being an overachiever

“What do you do for a living?”

That's one of the first questions we ask each other in our society. The choice of how you earn a living tells others a lot about you, whether those preconceived notions are accurate or not. If you're at a party and someone says they're an neurosurgeon, that's pretty impressive. You know that meant years of study and took a lot of ambition, and comes with a salary of a few (or several) hundred thousand dollars.

Being a go-getter has its benefits. A fancy degree or three, the impressive salary, the big house purchased with the big salary — all are indicators that someone is on top of their game, we think.

But ambitious people aren't necessarily more successful in life, according to a new study by Timothy Judge, professor of management at University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. The study, “On the Value of Aiming High: The Causes and Consequences of Ambition,” will appear in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

“If ambition has its positive effects, and in terms of career success it certainly seems that it does, our study also suggests that it carries with it some cost,” Judge said in a press release. “Despite their many accomplishments, ambitious people are high achievers weren't much happier. What's more, being a go-getter might have a somewhat negative effect on lifespan. On average, the Type Bs outlived the Type As.

Success at the Expense of Longevity?

While high-achievers enjoy more success in their careers, Judge says that doesn't lead to a happier, healthier life.

Although the study doesn't address the reasons for higher mortality rates for Type As, Judge speculated that maybe “…the investments they make in their careers come at the expense of the things we know affect longevity: healthy behaviors, stable relationships and deep social networks,” he says.

In other words, yes, brain surgeons are well-paid and enjoy a prestigious career, and rightly so. The idea of cutting open someone's brain and tinkering around in there dumbfounds me. (And makes me a little nauseous.) But as Judge's research indicates, an impressive career doesn't necessarily make someone happier. It's also possible that what it takes to reach such a high level of achievement comes at a cost to longevity. Consider what it actually takes to be a surgeon, such as the following:

  • High competition to get into medical school
  • The most demanding education and training requirements of any occupation — usually four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and three to eight years of internship and residency
  • Probably a mountain of student loan debt — according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2007 85% of public medical school graduates and 86% of private medical school graduates were in debt for education expenses
  • Working long, irregular hours, typically more than 60 hours a week, and many of those hours on your feet

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

That's a lot of stress, and you can imagine the implications those long, irregular hours might have for your family life. That's not to say that people shouldn't be ambitious — the world needs brain surgeons! But this study shows that, as with many things that might appear to be ideal, there's a tradeoff.

I was frequently guilty of thinking someone with a high-paying career and an impressive job title “had it all.” It wasn't until years of seeing that hypothesis disproved that I realized that every career has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, I had a friend who was marrying a doctor. He makes a lot of money, but their budget was tight because he'd just bought into a partnership in his practice. She was worried about their budget and wanted a simple wedding, but felt pressure to make it a more elaborate (read: expensive) event because of her husband's social standing and his work associates.

Judge also warns that while parents understandably want their kids to be ambitious and have successful careers, they shouldn't equate that with a happy life. “If your biggest wish for your children is that they lead happy and healthy lives, you might not want to overemphasize professional success,” he says. “There are limits to what our ambitions bring us — or our children.”

More about...Psychology, Health & Fitness

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Chase
Chase
8 years ago

Balance in life is definitely difficult to achieve but I certainly won’t be putting any of my ambition away!

sarah
sarah
8 years ago

Since correlation doesn’t imply causation, it might also be possible that people are ambitious BECAUSE they aren’t happy. If you don’t feel satisfied that may be reason to keep pushing.

In my experience (in several fields) the most successful employees are usually very anxious people in general. Anxiety can fuel perfectionism, timeliness, etc., but it still isn’t good for your happiness or lifespan.

KS
KS
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

And here yoga makes me more anxious – I never liked it, but felt compelled to like it because “it’ll make you less stressed”. To each their own!

CgK
CgK
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

@April: I think you’re predisposed to disliking type A’s. Per your post (and I read the actual article about type A’s), type A’s are actually a bit HAPPIER than others. I’m not sure why you’re wondering about unhappiness, when the study doesn’t yield that result. Speaking as a former type A, I also suspect the SLIGHTLY shorter lifespan is due to not getting enough rest. I, and other type A’s I know, have close families and friends, have fun, have job satisfaction, etc.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  CgK

Thank you! This whole thread, Sarah’s comment included, misses the point of the study.

Ambitious people are HAPPIER than unambitious folks. Despite the different spin given by the press release, that was the result of the study.

As for the shorter lives, there are a myriad of possible reasons. Stress probably is one of them. But I think that many people would choose to live a slightly shorter life, if it meant they were happier and successful.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

I agree with the anxiety/success relationship. I know I’ve always been most successful when I was hyperfocused and worried about getting my job right, learning the ins and outs, being self sufficient, etc. Successful at work, and miserable with my work life balance.

Now that Im much more laid back about my job, Im happier with my home life, and no longer climbing that ladder.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

Hear, hear. If your work is your calling–if you truly love it, you are very, very lucky. But you still have to tend to other parts of your life, like your family, your friends, and your health. Being a Type A workaholic can be a lonely road to travel.

Joseph
Joseph
8 years ago

I truly agree with Pamela. If our career choice is based on what we love to do rather than what will pay more, there is more satisfaction derived than frustrations.

Meghan
Meghan
8 years ago
Reply to  Joseph

The article doesn’t mention any distinction between doing what you love and doing something because it’s financially lucrative. Someone can be ambitious at doing what they love and still have the stresses that April talks about. I decided to go into a field for love rather than money. Fast forward more than a decade later, I’m working on my PhD in my field. And while I’ve definitely experienced at this point some degree of success (three degrees in my field, fellowships, recognition, blah, blah, blah…) there’s also been the costs: the relationships I ended to move for my bachelor’s and… Read more »

K
K
8 years ago

What’s with all the “classist” and “anti success” stories lately?

K
K
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I guess let me reword now that I am more awake- what’s with all the “work life balance” stories lately?

It think it’s a overworked topic.

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  K

GRS’s original focus was to get rich slowly by finding the right philosophical balance in monetary habits that would enable you to build wealth thoughtfully….

Not, how to get rich, even if slowly.

The former calls for life/balance thought and discussion hence life/balance articles.

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“When compared with a control group of laid-back, Type B people, the high achievers weren’t much happier.”

Not ‘much’ happier? That suggests they were still happier though, right?

Jonathan
Jonathan
8 years ago
Reply to  Russ

Haha, I was wondering about that too – the cost of being ambitious is that you won’t be much happier than if you weren’t? (the lifespan thing is obviously a factor too but for a lot of reasons I feel it’s less important).

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Yeah, this whole discussion is baffling. The only tradeoff mentioned by the study is “somewhat shorter lives,” which could mean anything.

Let’s see, I can choose between

a) A life full of achievement and happiness, or

b) A slightly longer life where I am less happy and don’t accomplish much.

Hmmm, tough choice……

Seriously, unless we’re talking a 5 or 10 year difference in lifespan, this study seems to argue in FAVOR of being ambitious.

anon
anon
8 years ago

I’m not sure I understand the point of this article. My husband and I are highly successful. We went to top schools (undergrad and grad), work at organizations you have heard of, and make a very comfortable living in a high-cost of living area. We love our jobs and careers. At the same time, we are happily married, have friends, family, and hobbies. We have numerous friends our age, all “overachievers,” in the same position. They – like us – all worked very, very hard and were very ambitious to get where they are. Is this article trying to tell… Read more »

Scott
Scott
8 years ago
Reply to  anon

Yes, but you’re only “slightly” happier than your Type B counterpart!

DaftShadow
DaftShadow
8 years ago
Reply to  anon

Your comment hits on the core of what is “wrong” with the philosophy espoused in the original post: Money and Finances are mostly about security and freedom, not happiness. Happiness is about Attitude. It stems from a person’s direct choice of thoughts, how they react to experiences, how they perceive, how they choose to act and react. One finds it “easier” to act or perceive or think in certain ways when they have the security of finances backing them up, but past a certain point (yes, it’s a power curve), the difference in minimal. Past a certain point, happiness is… Read more »

CD2
CD2
8 years ago

Ha! you are DEEPLY underestimating the misery of being a neurosurgeon. Like I tell everyone who wants to “be a doctor”- you don’t go into this for the money and prestige. You have to have a passionate love of the profession to make this worth it. Neurosurgeons are widely known in the medical community to be the biggest a-holes to work with and here are some reasons why: – you have to be in the top 1% or so of medical students in the nation to match into a neurosurgery residency position. It is routinely the most competitive speciality to… Read more »

Marilyn
Marilyn
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

Additionally, you’d never met a neurosurgeon at a party since they are probably on trauma call.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

What a fascinating insight! (I’m not being sarcastic). Thank you. In general, I agree with this article. I think there are plenty of miserable “successful” people who have no life outside of work and are too tired or time-poor to enjoy the things they can buy with their earnings. You have to strike a balance between fulfilling your potential, using your talents, and enjoying life and having a good family or relationship. Truly successful people are the ones who might not be the best looking, the richest or the most powerful, but who are just so darned content with themselves… Read more »

CD2
CD2
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

One point that I think it’s important to make though- being Type A (a pretty meaningless term to me… I think overachievers come in a lot of personality types. Let’s not confuse Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder with success) doesn’t mean that you are sacrificing your family/relationship life for work- quite the opposite. Doctor-Doctor marriages, which you might think are very unhappy since they are both working all the time, are actually very successful. They have about a 10% divorce rate and high marital satisfaction scores. Why? Most people who work hard at work, work hard at home too. They work… Read more »

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

Well, the second part of my comment wasn’t really about doctors in particular. I often get a really soulless vibe from overachievers (not necessarily the same thing as successful people). They’re kind of dead behind the eyes, and their “achievements” are usually totally unimpressive or uninteresting to anyone outside their field. Those Winkelvoss twins who sued the Facebook founders would be a good example.

Maggie@SquarePennies
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

You sort of defined the attributes of highly intelligent people. Of course there are geniuses who are also couch potatoes, but not many.

Another Kate
Another Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

Re: the comment immediately above about highly intelligent people, as someone who works in higher ed, I’d say that’s not entirely true. We’ve found that sometimes it’s the folks who are middling in terms of test scores and grades who work much harder than the highly intelligent people. A high IQ doesn’t equal success.

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

most “classic underachievers” ARE in the higher IQ classes…by definition that IS a classic underachiever…

has the brains, but not the ambition, and spends a lifetime battling people who want them to achieve things that they have no personal interest in “just because they can” and “just to get rich and retire early”.

Megan
Megan
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

That’s such an insightful post – thank you!

I’m curious about the competitive field for dermatology. I have a few theories as to why it’s competitive, but I’d love to hear your take.

CD2
CD2
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Oh, that’s easy to answer. It’s overwhelmingly female. why derm? 1. TIME. the hours are EASY. even in residency they have a sweet schedule. it’s just 4 years. Sure, it’s often around 60-80 hours a week, but they don’t take nearly as much call and they can have a fairly normal life. you rarely take call as an attending and can work very reasonable hours with flexibility. 2. MONEY. insurance (especially medicare and medicaid) rarely covers derm procedures and treatments. that means everything is paid cash in hand out of pocket. they make 600-800K a year working 9-5 no weekends… Read more »

K
K
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

I have 14 pretty close friends who are drs. All the female ones are in derm.

CD2
CD2
8 years ago
Reply to  CD2

Honestly, it’s kind of a joke amongst older doctors who went into medicine when everyone wanted to be a surgeon or an internist. One told me just the other day “Why with all of the medical brainpower concentrated in dermatology you would think they would have managed to cure melanoma by now for goodness sake!” They feel that we are “wasting” the best medical minds of our generation on skin rashes. I kind of agree with him though- if the number of medical superstars who are now in derm don’t cure melanoma in 20 years (pretty much the ONE deadly… Read more »

Will
Will
8 years ago

It’s nothing to do with over-achieving, career success or social standing. It simply relates to the fact that as a race, we are useless at spending money on the things that actually increase our happiness, instead wasting it on possessions and appearances.

This article provides a fascinating insight in to how to get the most smiles for your buck: http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2010/12/If-Money-Doesnt-make-you-happy.Nov-12-20101.pdf

John R
John R
8 years ago
Reply to  Will

Possessions and appearances help make me happy. I don’t know why this blog is still called Get Rich Slowly. It should be called how to be a hippie and rag on people who value ‘stuff.’

andrea
andrea
8 years ago
Reply to  John R

Isn’t JD’s theme “do what works for you”? Why so defensive? Is this an empirically done, peer reviewed, scientific study? And if it is, who cares? 9 out of 10 dentist recommend… but we cherry picked those 10 dentist. Data can be skewed.

John R
John R
8 years ago
Reply to  andrea

Who said I was defensive? I just liked this site better when it was more focused on finance. JD’s theme may be ‘do what works for you’ but all of the posts seem to be about how trying to achieve career success is terrible and being a blogger who lives in a tiny space with no stuff is great. I have no problem if you don’t like having lots of things but its not evil. It seems more like the theme is do what works for you except if you like to try to get ahead and spend money on… Read more »

Will
Will
8 years ago
Reply to  John R

I’d wager that they don’t, and I’m guessing you haven’t read the paper I linked to. Possessions and appearances do not (in themselves) make you happy. Possessions and appearances CAN enable you to have experiences which make you happy but the items themselves do not. The unfortunate trap here is that the human mind tends to attribute the positive feelings to the item, rather than the action. This leads us to search for more objects when we want to feel happy, rather than getting the full value out of what we already have. When people have more money, they tend… Read more »

Peter
Peter
8 years ago

I’ll take an ambitious and successful career for a happier, albeit slightly shorter, life.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Peter

me too. long lifespan is overrated. just ask my DH … he makes a very good living helping old rich people retain the ability to walk across the room.

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

I’ll give you credit for what is probably the first story I’ve ever read that questions whether it’s worth it to achieve. That being said, I think I’m still convinced that achieving is better than not, although I see both sides a little more clearly now. Without achieving, what is life, really? Achieving doesn’t have to mean corporate or career success. It can mean family success, relational success or working toward something that you really believe in. The opposite, sitting on your butt just because you’re “laid back”, in my experience, can put you down a path to feeling sorry… Read more »

Megan
Megan
8 years ago

Bingo.

I have known a few people in life who settled for “whatever.” It’s depressing to talk to them.

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

i know a (more than a) few people who cannot find satisfaction in anything as long as there is a corner on the horizon. Nothing is good enough, everything must be bigger, better, greater, more…

i find such people exhausting.

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago

I laughed when I read your comment, but as a definite “Type B” personality, Ill caution you on confusing a type b with a bum or a loser, etc…

SmartMoneyHelp
SmartMoneyHelp
8 years ago

I’ve been a long time over achiever. The funny thing is most of my friends have not been. They usually tend to be the opposite. I think that provides me with an outlet to relax. For a long time I’ve heard people saying that I don’t need to do so much. However I’m happier when I’m accomplishing a lot. I’ve tried taking it easy and I can only handle it for a short amount of time. I’ve struck a better balance over the years but I never let go of high achievements. I’ve decided to not be as vocal about… Read more »

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

I was an overachieving kid and it was very stressful. So stressful that I had somewhat of a nervous breakdown as a teenager, dropped out of school and went down a completely different path than anyone would have ever expected. You get used to having to be the best at stuff and there is so much pressure. The pressure isn’t just self inflicted either. People get all excited if you screw up and feel the need to point it out etc. Also, everyone expects big things from you. People always wanted to know if I would be a doctor or… Read more »

John in Denver
John in Denver
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

@Marianne – I completely agree. Your friends feel threatened, start to resent, and then you are isolated. My personality is that I am simply trying to do my best at everything I come across. For me it is hard to understand the rationale for not trying to do your best and pushing yourself. I know of no other worthy macro goal.

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  John in Denver

Time to look for new friends, then!

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  John in Denver

always feeling the need to do your best is not necessarily only a type A trait. Plenty of type B’s take great pride in doing the best work at the level they camp on. I have two friends, a female nurse and a male paralegal. Both constantly field various questions as in, you are too smart to be a nurse/paralegal…you are wasting your talents, why don’t you become a doctor/lawyer? to which they invariably answer that their goal and pride is in being the best nurse and paralegal in existence…and neither actually WANTED to be the other. A doctor or… Read more »

Bridget
Bridget
8 years ago

Hopefully I can just hit a nice balance between ambition and laziness then =\

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago

My quest for self improvement makes me happy. The day I quit striving to be “the best me I can be” is the day I stop living and start dying.

Worried about living a longer life? Get regular exercise, maintain strong bonds with your family/friends/community, and don’t overindulge in food or drink. And for heaven’s sake, don’t smoke. The rest is genetics and you can’t stop that.

If you do pop your clogs a year or two earlier, well, at least if you’re successful you can retire younger and not have to eat cat food in your retirement years.

Catherine
Catherine
8 years ago

April, this article would have been so much more interesting if you had not taken the Type B route of just writing about one academic research paper. What if a Type A had written the article? That writer might have tried to find research with opposing viewpoints or, god forbid, interviewed a real live academic or psychologist for their take on happiness. Then your readers might have had something real to chew on rather than the tired old cliche about brain surgeons. April, you are a good writer who can do better. That said, Judge seems to say that ambitious… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

I agree with your post overall, although I don’t like the derogatory picture you paint of the toothless nursing home dweller eating oatmeal. Call me crazy, but I still think those people bring value to society, even though they are no longer defined as productive. It’s a pervasive sense of equating value to productivity in our society that makes us think of their lives as meaningless.

Moreover, Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg are the exception not the rule. We can’t look to them to derive conclusions about the value (or lack thereof) of formal education.

catherine
catherine
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Jane, apologies if I sounded derogatory. I got my mother’s room wired for the internet when she went into a nursing home seven years ago, and she is still going strong on her laptop. Alas, I have had seven years of watching people who’s bodies have outlasted their minds. I can’t help thinking they’d be better off dead, though of course that is not my decision to make.

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
8 years ago

One thing I don’t feel the story addresses is the idea that perhaps Type A people need to aim high to be happy period. I know that when I have been in roles that did not provide significant challenge, opportunity for rapid growth, and a strong sense of ownership in my work, I’ve been far less happy. I’ve always been wired to “own” my work. When I don’t own it, I’m far far less satisfied. I’ve always been happiest when I’m doing work that meets my Type A needs. I may not be dramatically *more* happy than a Type B,… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

Me too.

Maggie@SquarePennies
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

You nailed it.

DB
DB
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

Penelope Trunk’s recent post on “strivers” (http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2012/02/14/the-real-value-of-diversity/) is a really interesting, well-researched commentary on this issue. She makes the critical point that what we are here calling “Type A” and “Type B” are very much dependent on your location – and the related point that a lot of the top “strivers” have made a choice not to focus on happiness. For example – I personally chose to live in the DC Metro Area because that is the right level of “striving” for me. However, living in New York City would drive me crazy – it is too competitive for me.… Read more »

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  DB

yeah, you hit it on the head. In brooklyn, my natural living pace is about 10 minutes behind everyone else and I love it because there is always something new and different around every corner. I managed to hold my own in the high dollar, high competition Manhattan world for 10 years or so but, like the article said, the toll of operating on that level totally screwed with things that were important to me like meditation, study, nature, community roots–so i’ve found a nice personal balance in brooklyn. but when I go home to Down East North Carolina, I’m… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

Whatever you do with your life, I think it’s important to not derive your sense of self or value entirely from what you do or accomplish. I’m not saying you can’t find satisfaction in achieving, but if that’s what defines you, what will happen if all that ends suddenly? Or how will you feel later in life when your body inevitably slows down? For years I was someone who was pretending to be an achiever and was surrounded by people who actually were ones. It was miserable. It took me a long time to realize that I just didn’t care… Read more »

Joe D.
Joe D.
8 years ago

I’ve always felt more ambitious as a father, husband, and upholder of Italian American traditions taught to me by others, rather than anything “career” related. There’s a slight twinge of guilt that goes with that. Thanks for an article that reflects it may not be a bad way to be.

Poor Student
Poor Student
8 years ago

I agree with the premise of the article, and the research was interesting, but there are other ways to define success than being a neurosurgeon. The term overachiever implies that they will be less happy because of all the things that go with achieving that much. Is the salary worth all the stress of that schooling? I think somebody who becomes the best grocery store manager by working hard is successful, and they do not need all the schooling, work a lot less than a surgeon, even if they work more than the typical 40/week. While I would not be… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
8 years ago

Ironically, people get so excited when I tell them I’m a golf instructor, but the reality is that I make very little and have no benefits. When I was making big bucks and great benefits no one ever said, “Wow, you’re a project manager for a financial institution?!?!”
🙂

Emmy
Emmy
8 years ago
Reply to  Golfing Girl

Haha, sometimes people get so excited when I tell them I’m a baker. So now that I’m in school earning my bachelor’s in “real college” they’re all like, “Oh, why?” I don’t have the heart to tell them my job offers no benefits and has low pay, while you deal with crazy restaurant owners and working conditions that lead to a bad back, sore feet and sad claw-like hands from repetitive motions. Like I would EVER want to leave pastry, jeez!

John | Married (with Debt)
John | Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

I was watching a tv drama recently and one of the characters said:

The world needs less ambition and more dignity.

I agree.

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

I was watching a mad men episode recently when an old career executive secretary died at her desk and in discussing the obit, the firm’s oldest partner said (paraphrased):

She was born in a barn in 1898 and died on the 37th floor [in 1964] of a Manhattan high-rise; she was an astronaut.

It’s true. Lot’s of astronauts of a different color out there. (I think I read somewhere that the episode was based on a true NYT obit…the maddics will have to help me out.)

babysteps
babysteps
8 years ago

For me, it all comes down to ‘know thyself’ – some folks desire & thrive on high-stress or high-commitment jobs. Others are much happier with a slower, calmer and possibly less $ on hand lifestyle. What’s works for me may not be right for you, may actually destroy some amount of happiness for you. I do *almost* remember a study that came out 25 or 30 years ago (mid 1980s) that had tracked folks who had been high achievers in school. I don’t remember if this was high school, standardized test, or college-based for the ‘high achiever’ label. After many… Read more »

Tori Holden
Tori Holden
8 years ago

Unfortunately, this can’t be viewed as an accurate depiction of the difference between over achievers and others. Not everyone has had the same opportunities in life, and those that didn’t over achieve may have been able to do so otherwise.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I’m not sure people actually have much choice to be ambitious or not. Sure you could try cognitive restructuring, but at what price?

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/ambition/

Every time I’ve tried to be less ambitious I’ve ended up unhappy. I’d rather be productive even if it causes some stress.

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/pondering-productivity-and-trying-to-hack-it/

David
David
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I completely agree. The whole time I was reading this article, I kept thinking in the back of my head, “It’s not a choice. It’s who you are.”

I hate the Type A/B labels, because they’re far too reductive, but someone who is truly “type A” will always be that way, whether it means they die young are not. They can’t live any other way.

BTW, if you have to ask yourself if you are one of those people, then you’re not.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  David

Like, Like, Like – there is no such thing as a ‘reformed’ Type A

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago
Reply to  David

Yeah, I pretty much agree with Nicole too. I don’t know though, sometimes some things happen as you get older to change your perspective and help you become a little more balanced. Friends and family die young, you give your all to a job and it doesn’t seem to matter in the end, your kids get upset that they don’t see enough of you…

But for the most part, I’d rather be constantly striving towards something since I get neurotic and depressed when I’m not.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

There’s more to life to watch grow than just a job! There’s a huge wonderful world out there to make better. I also like being busy and get unhappy when I’m not.

Emily
Emily
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Totally agree with Nicole. You are who you are. I find less stress and more happiness when my life is balanced (work, friends, relationship, me-time, family, etc) BUT I still approach all of my activities with “ambition”. I don’t know how to do things halfway. I am crazy busy all the time (which is the way I like it). But as long as one thing doesn’t take over my life I feel pretty satisfied. The worst I have ever felt was when I wasn’t highly ambitious at work (because I hated my job). Not living up to who I was… Read more »

margot
margot
8 years ago

Like many articles not written by JD on this site lately, I’m mystified by this rambling post. Again, seems like an attempt to fill up space and get paid for writing a silly article. And let’s keep in mind that, at least according to this study, the ambitious people were happier. Nor were we told what “longevity” means. Maybe the less ambitious people only lived 2 months or 6 months longer, on average. I’d much rather be ambitious and accomplished and contributing something to the world that matters and that makes it a better place for my children (all while… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago
Reply to  margot

That’s because the entire thing is speculative. The whole post is based not on an actual journal article, but on a press release announcing a journal article that isn’t actually available yet. This is why we never see how big the “slightly negative impact on longevity” actually is: they want you to read the journal article when it comes out. The whole post is essentially like writing a movie review based on the trailer.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

This is pseudoscience at its worst. It’s tired free-to-be-you-and-me rhetoric circling around and meeting Rick Santorum in an unholy marriage of self-satisfied ignorance. We need more achievement, not less. We need brillant people battling all the problems that the world is throwing at us. We need focus and commitment even if it makes us uncomfortable. We already live in a country where far too many people devalue education, believe in nonsense like creationism and angels, and think that hard work is unnecessary. There are Tiger Mothers and Tiger Nations out there laughing at us. Sorry for the rant, but this… Read more »

Ash (in US)
Ash (in US)
8 years ago

Wow. People are a bit sharp today with the comments. I’ll give a criticism and a compliment: 1) I would have liked to read the published journal article (which it’s not yet, I get that), so maybe holding this article a few weeks until it came out would have made for better debate. 2) I think that this sort of thing is interesting, and would tie well to the general GRS philosophy of “Do what works for you”. I think there’s a lot of potential to tie this into things like “Race to Nowhere” and if the normal stated values… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

You know what – I’ve come to believe that people who are really Type A – can’t help it. they are perfectionists. Once they trigger the – “I care about this” feeling – they have to push to be the best, create the best etc… Now, being able to master what is in that bucket is how you become succesful and happy. That has nothing to do with ambiiton – but it is a skill that is difficult to learn when you are accustomed to just overacheiving on everything. It’s a LOT harder for me to take things out of… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

You don’t have to be a perfectionist to be type A. Some of us just like to watch things grow.

Audrey
Audrey
8 years ago

Hm, I find it interesting that the article mentioned in the press release is not currently indexed in PubMed, and so I can’t read the article itself. However, the theory of this article (as presented in the press release) is at least somewhat contracticted by other papers, such as “How the rich (and happy) get richer (and happier): relationship of core self-evaluations to trajectories in attaining work success” and “Are health and happiness the product of wisdom? The relationship of general mental ability to educational and occupational attainment, health, and well-being.” The second article details that a lot of the… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

I’d like to write a contrary position article but I don’t have a lot of time this morning. As a kind of shorthand, I’ll note a few sources for my inexistent argument (thank you, Borges, for the device) and mention a few points I’d discuss. -Studies that show that animals at the bottom of the social hierarchy have higher levels of stress (cortisol). -Anecdotal evidence of politicians having a longer life. Ex-presidents who survive assassination seem to live forever! -I know a lot of people who seem to be unable to accomplish anything, they tend to be miserable people. One… Read more »

madge
madge
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

this made me laugh out loud, el nerdo:

“The people on Charlie Rose seem to be happier than the people on Maury Povich.”

truth!

i don’t think we are suffering from too much achievement in this country — it’s more that we’re suffering from people misunderstanding what achievement is. it’s not about looking prosperous, it’s about doing cool stuff!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  madge

Yes, we’re not suffering from too much achievement–other countries are eating our lunch. Besides the wrong definition of achievement you mention, we’re actually suffering from too much complacency and a sense of entitlement bred over decades in an educational system that embraces social promotion, hands out 8th place medals, and proclaims that “everybody is a winner”. Well, I wouldn’t just blame the educational system– the parents are complicit demanding that Junior gets straight A’s no matter what. Just the other day a college student was complaining to someone I know that “everybody deserves the same grade” in their class (even… Read more »

olga
olga
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Is there double-like? That whole “everybody is a winner” drives me nuts! And they say communism was a bad society…

andrea
andrea
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Honestly, El Nerdo, start your own blog. I would read it daily. I love your no-nonsense, well thought out replies. Sooo many people in this world are reactionaries (myself included) and your voice is appreciated.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  andrea

Ha ha, thanks, I appreciate the comment. I really enjoy writing, and I love to exchange ideas with people on the internet, but I wouldn’t want to do this on a mandatory basis. For one thing, I’m already committed to a business I love, so my energy is focused on that at the moment. And then there’s the whole privacy aspect of being a blogger– perhaps I’d do it if I could live hidden like Epicurus recommended, but putting my life on display on the internet as bloggers often do isn’t appealing to me at all. Anyway, for now I’m… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

I don’t usually complain about the articles, because hey, it’s not my site and I always have the choice of reading (or not), but this one was both shallow as to content, and meaningless as to PF applicability.

I think it’s great to have multiple voices and different worldviews, but there’s a big difference between providing useful information and providing useless speculation.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

“On average, the Type Bs outlived the Type As” By how many years on average, and what were the causes of death? How did the differentiate the As from the Bs? Being a “go getter” doesn’t always mean you’re going to succeed; so what percentage of the people (the As) actually fail short at what they set out to do vs the ones who succeeded? Family background is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. We need info. The book, The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. gives you scientific evidence of what makes a person happy and what doesn’t.… Read more »

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

I think you have to be very careful here. Typ A personalities or go getters are not satisfied with a just anything. That can mean additional stress or frustration, but you have to learn how to deal with that. I mean find positive ways to deal with frustration. In my case, I went the entrepreneurial route. I left a prestigious position (CFO) and went out on my own. I was successful and returned to work by doing consulting and now teaching. I now have a choice. I no longer have the stress, but I am still an overachiever who has… Read more »

olga
olga
8 years ago

Most of the items had been said already, but to add my voice, I, too, am disappointed in the direction some articles take, away from the name of the blog. While I’ll be the last person standing interested in stuff, I disagree with “everyone needs to stop working and go after your dream” concept. Some things just need to be done, there are responsibilities for families. The type A vs type B debate is funny, like catching the phrase “not MUCH MORE happy”, or “outlived”, or simply painting all and every type A person with a broad brash that equated… Read more »

Ethiope
Ethiope
8 years ago

This article is so dead on. I don’t usually post, but had to for this one. I’m a doctor and the realities are nothing like what you imagine before you reach your goals. The process of getting here and the reality of being here both serve to separate you from other people which definitely can lead to unhappiness. Not to mention the financial struggles (which is why I read this blog) which can be all the more frustrating because the more unaware people around you assume you’re rich. I also agree with one poster who said that perhaps being uphappy… Read more »

Sleeping Mom
Sleeping Mom
8 years ago

Everything comes with pros and cons, even high-powered and well-paying positions. I probably could have moved up in my career but that would have meant way more responsibilities that in honestly I didn’t want on my shoulders. I would also be tied much closer to work, leaving little time for my family, which I again didn’t want. Kids nowadays can be pressured to compete and out-perform their peers for the top schools, but at what cost? I’m all for believing that my toddler can achieve just about anything, but not at the expense of his well-being and happiness. I’d rather… Read more »

Earn Save Live
Earn Save Live
8 years ago

As a goal-oriented, ambitious person, I am proud of my achievements and I really enjoy my job. I’m a PhD (not an MD), but I typically work 40 hour weeks, give or take. I used to put in twice as much time, but now I’ve come to not define myself or my worth through my job. Personally, I would rather earn a great income, be passionate about my career, and stress about student loans than earn a more modest income, hate my job, and stress about my current bills and future retirement. But that’s just me, and I think each… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago

There are 2 points. 1) ambitious achiever people are only ‘slightly happier’ 2) achievers tend to have lower life expectancy.

Nothing wrong with being ‘slightly’ happier.

#2, they don’t give any indication of how much longer type B people nor do they examine the causes of the mortality. They’d have to weed out the causes and make sure its not just stuff like genetic predisposition to cancer impacting life span or type A’s driving agressively on the road and having 1-2 more motor vehicle fatalities.

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago

This post really hit home. My two best friends growing up…and now for that matter…are both doctors. All three of us wanted to be doctors growing up but I had some personal issues on the way to med school and found myself attaining an MBA and becoming a computer programmer instead. I couldn’t be happier with the path of my life. My friends have a mountain of debt, work incredibly long hours, have an incredible amount of work stress in their life, and rarely see their families. I couldn’t make those sacrifices for my career. I’m type B+/A-. I work… Read more »

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Brendan

B+/A-

~rofl~ love it!

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

I could swear I read somewhere that while a Type-A is more likely to HAVE a heart attack, a Type-A is more likely to RECOVER from a heart attack than a Type-B. I think it was in a management behaviour text at uni.

RJ
RJ
8 years ago

There’s a lot of truth to the article. I have a “Type A” education, but I made a decision to pursue a “Type A/B” career: I’m moderately ambitious in my profession (prof at a decent but not top university), but not so much to the point that the profession’s highest ideals (such as relentless publishing and ladder-climbing) condition and define my life. I’m quite happy being on the “medium track”–balanced publishing, teaching, and service–and I have time for other things in life.

Trina
Trina
8 years ago

Wow! This really brought the overachievers out to defend their choices!

I’m a reformed overachiever. I have 3 master’s degrees and made an excellent living and was miserable. I took a 25% pay cut for a much less stressful job, and now I’m blissfully happy. 🙂

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

It’s an interesting topic, but I think this post would have been better written if based on the actual study, not a press release. There is very little information in the press release and I’m left with too many questions about the study and its finding. With a slightly shorter lifespan and being only slightly happier, this kind of feels like “much ado about nothing.” In my experience, people can be happy or unhappy regardless of social status, marital status, kids or not, income or achievements. It’s really up to the individual how they find contentment in their own lives,… Read more »

Honey
Honey
8 years ago

I really related to this article. In high school, I was on the dance team, president of the math club, secretary of a student volunteer organization, on brain bowl/academic team, second in my class, etc. I was in a sorority in college and graduated with a 4.0, and got my PhD by the time I was 29. Then life intervened and instead of the tenure-track job I imagined for myself, I got a normal 8-5 job that doesn’t challenge me every minute. And you know what? I have time to teach myself to cook, to play video games, to watch… Read more »

Vic
Vic
8 years ago

I have spent 15 years in the corporate world, couldn’t have agreed more with this post.

As one moves up in the corporate ladder, the expectations are much higher. It comes with longer hours, more stress which means less time to yourself and with the family. The job becomes more important than the family.

This is the case in the current economy. Gone are the days when you could work 8-4 and call it a day.

Vic

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

I’m not saying ambitious people don’t have problems but its far better to be ambitious than not. People shouldn’t become doctors, lawyers, etc. to please their parents. They should do it because they want to have that career. I’m making 12k as I work and go to college and I don’t want to be making this much money the rest of my life. I want to make close to six figures or higher, I want a BMW, a nice house, nice clothes, nice jewelry and I don’t feel bad about it. Honestly only in the U.S. is it bad to… Read more »

CSMajor
CSMajor
8 years ago

I think it really depends on what you want out of life. I’m studying computer science and neuroscience at an Ivy League University, and I haven’t gone to bed before 1 AM or worked fewer than ten hours any day in the last two weeks. Yes, you have to make a lot of sacrifices – I’m seeing my friends and boyfriend maybe half as much now that I’m a junior – but I’m studying how the relatives of people with mental illness can have milder versions of the same traits that are actually beneficial. There’s nothing I would trade for… Read more »

yourPFpro
yourPFpro
8 years ago

Depends on your situation! If you work for yourself or a small company, you can see your daily impact. If you miss a day of work, you will see how much it affects everyone. If you’re at a larger company, it is not worth it. The company can and does let go of people all the time. They do not retain top level talent in the most effective manner. Quick example: At my work(large aerospace engineering firm in San Diego), I worked 40 hours a week on the dot for the past year. My friend worked 50+ every week, his… Read more »

Me
Me
8 years ago

Not including the hospital stay and their services – In the end my insurance company paid my brain surgeon 10k for my surgery. I thought that was a bargain given his skill and the schooling required to do such work.

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