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Sorta Random Sunday: Harnessing the Power of Strategic Underachievement

On a first take, it seems pretty weird to be talking about a concept like strategic underachievement. Or really any kind of underachievement. It’s just not something that we, as high achievers, ever like to think about. Or even think is acceptable.

But I’m here to tell you that it is!

What is strategic underachievement?

I think this is a concept that I understood and kind of even practiced before I really knew what it was.

strategic underachievement

I’m taking the name, “strategic underachievement,” from a great book I just read called Four Thousand Weeks Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. High recommend it.

Anyway, it’s not a main point but Burkeman brings up this idea. The idea that in life, if we are to be successful, we need to cultivate strategic underachievement. That we need to accept and even embrace the fact that we will not excel at everything we do. There will be areas of our life that we underachieve in.

And that is good!

Because by underachieving in those areas, it frees us up to overachieve in other areas. The areas that are important to us.

In fact, the problem arises when we try to overachieve, or even just achieve, in all areas. We get pulled in too many directions. We get stressed. At best, we become a jack of all trades and master of none. At worst, we get burned out or procrastinate and do nothing.

How do we choose what to underachieve in?

This is the question that keeps overachievers up at night. Because we want to do everything.

And honestly, for most of our lives this was possible. But there comes a time for everyone when there are just too many balls in the air for us to successfully juggle them all. Something will drop and you better hope it’s not a really important ball.

So, what is the solution?

The solution is to get rid of any balls that are not really important! Does this mean to just quit the job you don’t like? Of course not. You need that ball to pay the bills. But it should mean that you need to work on changing that job into one you like or change to another job completely. It also means that maybe you need to drop some other, less important balls so you can focus more on making your professional situation better.

Some personal examples

I’ll give you some from different aspects of my life.

First, exercise. I am a strategic underachiever in exercise. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it. But, as a younger lad, I was really into it. I worked out every day and it became an important part of my routine.

But honestly, I don’t have time now. And I keep healthy in other ways by incorporating cardiovascular expertise into my daily routine and eating right. I’ll never be as in shape as I was before. And I’m ok with that. Because I have other things, like family, reading, this blog, that I value more.

Another example is a clinical one. My most important clinical ball is breast reconstruction. That’s where my passion and focus is within all of plastic surgery. So I strategically overachieve in that arena and am constantly working and studying and learning to get better.

And that means there are areas where I strategically underachieve. And those are areas in plastic surgery that I no longer practice.

Both things are hard to do. But necessary for me to achieve in the more important aspects of my life.

A final thought

We all have limited time. It’s a fact of reality. None of us can do everything. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start picking the important things in our life and really do something with them!

Here are some other great mindset posts for you!

What do you think? Have you ever practices strategic underachievement? Do you think you can? What are the most important balls in your life? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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