Mental Health Moments: How to Remedy Achievement Addiction

By Kaylin R. Staten

The action of achievement is in my blood. My parents instilled work ethic into everything my sister and I did. What did this little perfectionist do? I took it to the extreme with unrelenting high standards, of course.

Does anyone remember the episode of “Growing Pains” where mom Maggie Seaver works away on her clunky laptop (it was the ‘90s, after all) in the bathroom when she is supposed to be enjoying Hawaii with her family? Yeah, that was me.

In America, we are praised for our achievements. If we aren’t achieving, then latency will envelop everything we have accomplished. Somehow, we think each achievement will wash away into the past, with nothing to show for it in the present and future. It doesn’t matter if we achieved something five minutes ago. Instead of relishing the moment, we look toward what we hope will occur. In essence, achievement addicts are never satisfied with a state of being.

Achievement addiction, which is also commonly known as workaholicism, occurs when the act of accomplishment overrides other facets of your life, such as family, health, romantic relationship and relaxation time. It arises in various forms and can creep into your life without you even realizing it. Do you eat lunch at your desk instead of taking a much-needed one-hour break? Does your life revolve around work to the point that you can’t take a vacation without needing to work?

Here are three remedies that can ease the anxiety caused by achievement addiction:

Create your own work-life balance.

Ten years ago, my work-life balance didn’t exist. I was an OCD college student striving for perfection with each paper, exam and assignment. I wanted summa cum laude on my degree, and I did it -- at the expense of everything else. While I am proud of that achievement, it required too many sacrifices in the form of a personal life. I would count the minutes until I could get back to work when I attended “fun” family events. I would let myself watch new episodes of “Law and Order: SVU” when I had “worked enough.” I sometimes ate Cheez-Its for dinner because I felt too busy to cook anything. Most likely, my work wasn’t as efficient because breaks were a foreign concept. That lasted well into my 20s, and honestly, I’m still tweaking my work-life balance. The bottom line is, sometimes work will overtake my schedule, and sometimes, life will. The key is acceptance.

Be crystal clear on your goals and objectives.

Often, I would work just for the sake of working. If it looked like work, smelled like work, and acted like work, I was utterly obsessed with finishing it. The thing is, any goal worth achieving isn’t completed in only a few checks off a to-do list. Goals and objectives require authentic hard work and do not happen overnight. Take time to pat yourself on the back when you’ve accomplished a touchpoint of a goal. If you have a setback, then learn from it. And don’t work just for the sake of working if it doesn’t benefit the type of person you aspire to become. Set clear goals and objectives so you know where you stand and can accurately assess progress.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and I have often fallen into that black hole. I have wondered why I can’t have what someone else has, which spirals out of my sane mind’s control. All of us are on our own journeys, and what works for someone else may not work for us. I learned this lesson when I first started Hourglass Media. I looked toward others’ insight and depended on it to form my business. I was “good” at certain elements, after all. That comparison (and poisonous competition) led me down an unhappy path -- until I took the road less traveled and ventured off on my own way. Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. And don’t allow toxic people to help you identify who you are.

Please note: These blog posts are not clinical, although we will provide symptoms and other information. These posts are based on my experiences with anxiety and mental health in general.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit a website like Mental Health America to learn more.

Mental Health Moments blog posts are every other Tuesday of the month. Our CEO and contributors highlight what it's like to live with a mental health disorder and continue to fight the stigma through storytelling.


Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.