In 2019, a Twitter user named Sara posted a tweet about an interaction she had at therapy. She had made her therapist laugh, and her internal response was: “This is great. I’m going to get a good grade in therapy, something that is both normal to want and possible to achieve.”  

It went viral and became a meme, of course. Not only because it’s funny but because that reaction is so relatable to so many people—namely, high performers and achievement-driven people. If that’s you, you probably spent your formative years trying to get good grades, please your teachers and meet your family’s expectations. As you got older, the pressure grew to beat out your peers for the best grades, the best colleges, the best internships, the best jobs.  

The Pressure to Achieve

In school, there were always A’s to earn and awards to win. Even if good time management and productivity was a struggle, you could skip sleep and cram during study periods to finish your work. There was a clear-cut way to get validation and be considered an achiever. 

So, it’s really no wonder that high-performing professionals like attorneys, consultants and business owners are so often still striving for those awards (albeit unconsciously). 

By the time you’re through college and maybe graduate school, you spent 20+ years measuring your success through your achievement of very clear, concrete benchmarks. And then—you’re on your own. Running your own business, prospecting for new clients, establishing your reputation, serving your clients, doing big-picture planning for the future of your business.  

Striving for Invisible Benchmarks

There are still some really clear indicators of success you can strive for, of course. Signing a new client. Closing a sale. For attorneys, getting the outcome your client wanted in a case. But if you’re someone who sought a lot of external validation from teachers and when you were younger, the piece of you that craved those accolades doesn’t necessarily go away when you move into adulthood. You still want to be the best, the hardest working, the most successful. 

We’re all trying to win non-existent awards—and it’s not good for time management and productivity.   

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you may have already seen a post I recently shared from an attorney in my network. It was a list titled “Awards that do not exist (and you’re trying to win anyway).” Originally compiled by coach Charlotte Grimmel (@mindfriend), the list of non-existent awards was: 

  • Most perfect. 
  • Never said no. 
  • Rested the least. 
  • Didn’t need help.  
  • Worked the longest. 
  • Didn’t make any mistakes.  
  • Lived up the everyone’s expectations.  

Recognizing Unrealistic Goals

What other non-existent awards are you trying to win? How about: 

  • Answered emails the fastest, even on nights and weekends? 
  • Most outgoing and charming person at networking events? 
  • Volunteered for the most committees? 
  • Made it to every kid’s soccer practice or play performance, even if meant staying up half the night to catch up on work?  
  • Won over every difficult client, even if your mental health suffered?  

Here’s the problem with chasing non-existent awards (goals): you waste time and energy that could be directed toward productive work that generates actual, tangible results (e.g., more money and more business). Good time management is all about using your limited time to achieve the things that are most important to you, and those things aren’t necessarily the same things that will win you an imaginary title like “Didn’t make any mistakes.”  

Seeking Validation the Right Way

To be clear, craving validation is normal! Especially if you’re self-employed and don’t have bosses to promote you, give you raises and otherwise celebrate your accomplishments. Consultants, attorneys, realtors and other business owners just need to be a little more intentional about where they look for that pride and recognition.  

3 Steps to Feel Validated Without Chasing Non-Existent Awards

1. Reconnect with your most meaningful goals.

Are you so clear on what they are that you could describe them to me right now if I asked you to? Are your most meaningful goals written down someplace where you can see them every day, or just vague concepts in your mind? It’s very, very easy for busy people to lose sight of their meaningful goals when they’re so distracted with the day-to-day work of running a business and having a personal life. Get yours somewhere in front of your eyes so you’re reminded of them often. You’re much more likely to actually use your time management strategies to carve out time to work on those goals if you’re constantly thinking about them.  

2. Take an inventory of your strengths and think about how you can you use them in a meaningful way, but not let them lead you astray.

For example, let’s say you’re a natural extrovert. That doesn’t mean you have to go to every industry networking event and spend hours being “on” because you want everyone to think of you as being super approachable. Think about the ways you can use your extroversion to its greatest advantage, without totally draining your battery.  

3. Use the “what would happen?” test.

If you’ve spent your entire life striving for real or imaginary awards, it’s a hard habit to break. For now, challenge yourself to notice the moments when the voice in your head says you should do something that feels like something your body doesn’t want to do. (E.g., “I should really volunteer for this committee, even though I’m already dreading it.” “I should take on this client’s urgent last-minute request even though I’m already exhausted and fried.”) 

In those moments, run through the scenario where you say no. People might be disappointed. So what? They’ll make other arrangements! Turning down a request might take you out of the running for the non-existent “Never Says No” award, but that just frees you up from thinking about it. Saying no to one request that you don’t have the bandwidth for makes it easier to say no the next time you need to.  

Of course, in many cases, the answer to “what would happen?” is: something with consequences you’d like to avoid. You could blow off an event tonight because you’re tired, but you know there will be some valuable prospecting opportunities that could turn into real business. So maybe you decide to go—not because you’re trying to meet anyone else’s expectations, but because it’s the choice that’s most aligned with your priorities for your business.    

Need More Support with Time Management and Productivity?

Striving for perfection all the time isn’t going to help you create the life you crave, either for your business or on the personal side. Instead of comparing yourself to some unreasonable standard you’ve made up, wouldn’t it be a relief to use your time and energy to create tangible progress on your most meaningful goals? And have enough time left over to actually rest and enjoy your life?  

Simple changes to your time management strategies can change everything. To talk one-on-one about what’s possible for your business, and how I can help, request a no-cost Strategy Session now. Let’s make a plan for what you need to do next to create the life you want. Click here to request your no-cost Strategy Session



Image source:

Sarah Reiff-Hekking