The Downside of Driven

This phrase recently popped up in a team training, and it snagged my attention and just wouldn’t let go. I’ve been described as “driven” countless times throughout my life. Even when I was young, this was applied to me as a description of how I approached my grades, athletics, drama class, spelling bees… you name it. I learned early on that “being driven” was something I was often rewarded and recognized for.

In my adult life, I overzealously applied this to…well, just about everything. If I was going to do something, dammit, I was going to do it ALL THE WAY. I was driven to excel, to prove everyone wrong (although I never stopped long enough to define who this mysterious, mythical “everyone” actually was), and to be the best I could be in every single, teeny-tiny, possible facet of my life. I mean, we’re talking- how much faster can I blow dry my hair today than yesterday, can I fit these last three dishes into the dishwasher if I just rearrange it for a third time, if 3 revisions to this paper made it excellent, what if I go back through it again and make it STUPENDOUS, if the job asked for 3 references, shouldn’t I give them 5?!?!

Frankly, it’s exhausting.

It’s also incredibly hard (at least for me!) to navigate when being driven is a good thing and when it’s dipping into not-so-good-for-Niki territory.

I’m not saying “driven” is a terrible quality. On the contrary, it’s a characteristic that has been responsible for some of my greatest successes and biggest achievements! It’s the same characteristic that eventually got me out of bed after my Mom died suddenly. It’s the same characteristic that keeps me pushing for personal growth and for resolution to some of my anxieties and stress tendencies.

However, without a proper definition of what I actually want “driven” to look and feel like, and intentionally selecting when I want to deploy that specific tool in my toolbox, it’s often a fast track to depletion and drain. The downside of driven is that it can also lead us to overthink, overproduce, and overestimate our energies. It can also put us into a state of action and reaction that functions on autopilot, propelling us forward faster than we should perhaps rightfully go. We fail to notice important details, we make rash decisions, and we react to what’s in front of us rather than taking a needed pause to make sure we’re responding the way we really want to. Driven without definition can also leave us in a place we never really meant to get to in the first place, wondering how the hell we got there and how the hell to get somewhere else.

Truthfully, this is something I work on every day. Being intentional about how I want to apply my “driven” tendency has helped me move through my days with a little more peace and a heck of a lot more calm. It’s also something I leverage when I’m down to the wire on a deadline or facing a back-to-back day when I’m not feeling my best. I also tap into it for problem-solving and for challenging myself to think bigger about my own personal and professional goals.

If “driven” is a quality of yours, consider how and when you are applying it. Like any other superpower, our greatest strengths can often be our greatest challenges as well. Build some awareness around how this shows up for you in your work life, at home, and even in your self-talk. Get intentional about activating this as a superpower when you need it, but allowing some ease and some peace when “driven” doesn’t need to be your default mode. In my experience, life got a whole lot more enjoyable when I was judicious with this characteristic!

- Nicole

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