Evolutionary Mechanism Behind Overachieving

I want to be all because I can be all.

This is a very appealing narrative.

However, instead of arguing the feasibility of attaining perfection, the more important question is why—why want to be all?

Answering the question of utility before feasibility allows one to save time and energy.

Not knowing why we are doing certain things is like watching a robot throw 3-point basketball shots with 100% accuracy—amazing yes, but what is the point?

One can intrinsically enjoy achieving.

However, that is not the full picture.

Humans are biologically wired to survive, not to merely thrive. Behind a wanting to be all, I hypothesize, is a very primal motive—the fear of abandonment.

The narrative is: If I am not perfect, I will be left by the people I love.

We do our best to be everything so that we increase our chances of not dying if an alien comes and hits us.

The concept of overachieving and chasing perfection, two concepts I use interchangeably, can also be explained from a behavioral science perspective.

For Asian kids, you may be able to relate to my stories of having to be my absolute best self in order to get some semblance of reward from my parents.

You get punished when you show flaws in your academics or character.

In my case, I had to be a girl who achieved things so that I could get positive and affirming attention.

Excelling in school and life was the only way I could get time from my stressed-out parents.

This is not our parent’s fault — this is all that they know. But ignorance doesn’t mean it’s justified. I digress.

This chasing of perfection for fear of abandonment shows up in a lot of us even when the source, i.e. memories of how we were raised, are gone. It manifests in a lot of ways.

For instance, how people show up on social media.

The appeal of social media lies in our ability to edit.

For the first time, you can ignore the reality of imperfection and portray an image of bulletproof perfection.

Even though we are doing our best to be authentic, there are still some of us who secretly find it satisfying to tweak every little detail to make ourselves appear pristine. With intentional vulnerability yes, but still perfect compared to real life.

For what?

Perhaps for reasons stated above—to be a version of ourselves that people can’t leave behind.

Now that you are aware of the possible mechanisms behind wanting to be perfect, and the fragility of it all, I hope that you can give yourself the grace of letting yourself go once in a while.

You are doing your best, and that is enough.