Drinking with the Lads (and John)

Are You Really An Adult Underachiever?

E. Forrest Christian Coaching, Underachievers 7 Comments

Too many good people think they are “adult underachievers” but aren’t. What they really are is folks who have chosen a different lifepath than the one that is accepted as the best way to live in our society.

(I’m in America, but probably still true in Australia and the UK. It’s less true in Europe. If you’re somewhere else, you’ll have to figure out if this is relevant for you.)

Maybe an example will help.

Last July, Maye Rain lamented her status as an underachiever (“Shoot Me, I’m an UnderAchiever!“). I don’t know her in any way and this is entirely based on how she portrays herself on her blog.

She makes it clear that she chooses her life:

Many of my friends who do this type of work are artists. Some of us have a lot of education and little or no use for it. I have two undergraduate degrees and a Masters in Fine Arts so why in the world would I choose to work in a diner?

My first reason for making such a decision was to stay the hell out of corporate America. I hate everything about it except the health insurance. Honestly, I really I hate the khaki clone clothes.

Not everyone who waits tables is an artist but she is. She’s educated. She has created a life outside of an environment (“corporate America”) that she believes would be toxic to her. Here’s someone who creates great jewelry and who even presents them in an artful manner.

But maybe she identifies the real nub of why so many people believe that they’re underachievers. Rain writes that she has been constantly checking the blogs and websites of two of her competitors, people who “don’t know I exist”.

The reason why, of course, is because I want to be like them. I want my jewelry to look that pretty and my house to look so quirky and cool and my dog to look freshly bathed. Mostly though, I want to be making money doing this thing I love.

Aye, there’s the rub. It sounds like she has the voices who say:

“You got the degree. You think you’re an artist. If you’re so smart, why aren’t you as rich as these other two people are?”

It’s all about money. Not because it’s all about money to her (I have no idea), but because it’s all about money for so many people in our society.

In our society, to “achieve” is not to “create something” or to “do something”: it’s to “make a lot of money”. Thinking isn’t an achievement.

As Warren Kinston once warned me, “Forrest, don’t denigrate the work of the mind!”

There are lots of people who have great ideas, but turning an idea into a “reality” is very difficult and takes a lot of hard work. Maye Rain has great ideas and is turning them into real life objects. She is consciously building a work practice with her jewelry sales, and is even expanding into other markets. This sounds like an achiever to me, albeit an achiever whose work is still down the Long Tail.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that although she self-identifies as an “adult underachiever”, she in no way is. If you’re someone like her, who produces work (achieves) but has not gotten monetary “success” (skads of cash), you are not an underachiever. Even given her schooling, she is not underachieving. She has chosen a career path that is very difficult to make money at (that’s just the way it is) and which she makes possible through waiting tables. Her recent posts sound much like a person who achieves and is on her way to paying her bills with what she wants to offer the world.

Sometimes one’s own mental development path makes a difference in what you can do and how “achievement” needs to be defined. And all too often people with the ability to achieve great things are often found in jobs like waiting tables.

No adult underachiever here. Not in my opinion.

Maye Rain is a pure achiever.

image credit: I have no idea. I scanned this out of a book and Photoshopped (well, Aldus Photostyler-ed) the guy on the left. Original title (I think) is “Drinking with the lads”.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 7

  1. Wow, Forrest, thank you so much for this article you’ve written. Yesterday, I felt so discouraged and then this showed up and it made a huge difference. It’s good to see someone else put things together so I can see a bit more clearly. This line is what got me the most – “Her recent posts sound much like a person who achieves and is on her way to paying her bills with what she wants to offer the world.” – because, of course, it really is that simple.

    I’m really interested in what you have to say next.

  2. To the question “what is an underachiever”? Perhaps this is merely anyone who resides in a situation where they are not applying their full potential capability and clearly are not satisfied with the situation. Recall that CPC is the cumulative CMP+SK+V+RB (Complexity of mental processing+Skills and Knowledge+Valuing the work/ situation+ Required Behaviors. If the individual is unsatisfied the question is what’s missing?

    In the example provided the individual is measuring herself against an image or judgment of what success is and that is something that she may be qualified for but doesn’t value. In the same example because she values the work and is capable, probably possesses the required behaviors the issue is she is acquiring skills and knowledge in the profession she values. Or is it? This should be a satisfying experience. There may be a psychological assessment occurring here where what she values conflicts with the image portrayed to her. It might be a matter of interpreting that she does not measure up in response to the expectations of parents, friends, society, etc. and as a consequence is feeling inadequate and incomplete. In this case she wouldn’t be incomplete with her choice of profession but rather the missing approval of the person of influence. This is in the RB realm…the dreaded -T!

    Agreed she is achieving and on her way to paying her bills with what she wants to offer the world however what is interfering with the achievement of that? Because she questions the value of what she is doing it leaves the question is she really satisfied? Is she incomplete? Is there some psychological interference that is preventing her satisfaction? What is missing the presence of which would make a difference? What needs to be completed? Frankly, I doubt it is merely money.

    We all need affirmation and approval however why else would someone feel so discouraged and a few words of encouragement make such a huge difference? The question is will it last?

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    (If you’re reading these comments and have no idea what’s going on, don’t be alarmed! Al’s dealing in some theory here that has a pretty long learning curve.)

    Perhaps the American experience of money=success is more foreign than we down here would think. Jaques is not a complete understanding of the world. He ignores culture, for the most part, to concentrate on work levels within primarily non-knowledge work. Money is the primary cultural value in America. If you have a degree but are not rich, you have something wrong with you, often morally wrong.

    And she’s an artist. Kinston’s probably right about the different work hierarchies, and you can’t just take a someone who has a different language of work (which implies mental process that is different from the mental process of time horizon) and plunk them into a simpler one. Jaques wouldn’t have seen anything more than the basic two hierarchies, and would have discounted the experience of the second one for a variety of decent reasons — mainly so he could get his work completed. It was a major set of findings.

    The affirmation that we all need is not as simple as “a few words of encouragement”. Those are more or less useless so I rarely waste my time with them. It’s about modal recognition. If she is who I would guess she is, she spends most of her life not being seen because of the differences in mode. If you add what Kinston has discovered, you make it even rarer that someone will comprehend her. Not that she’s some creative genius, just that the combination of these two factors (stratum within a hierarchy and the language or work within which she achieves) would make it rare for her to be able to actually appreciate these aspects of her.

    The affirmation is not approval: I don’t know her. My belief is that she felt Recognized in what would be her stratum within her particular hierarchy and in her language of work. The power of such “encouragement” depends upon how rare such experiences are (think here about EJ’s educated guess at the distribution of modes).

    Kathryn Cason has talked about how people within the same Modes recognize each other. Other than Glenn Mehltretter, I don’t know anyone else who considers it much.

  4. this is the first Ive heard of Modes, but I certainly have the experience of recognizing my people.

    Hmm. And does being called “weird” almost every day of my life tie in somehow?

    I am looking forward to reading more. Thank you!

  5. Does Jaques really ignore culture? My understanding is he was all about culture. Elliott was dismayed by the cultural state of the democratic free world and the direction society is evolving in. His assertion was that people are not deriving basic levels of satisfaction at work and that because the majority of individuals are employed for a living that the opportunity to reach one’s full potential capability has far reaching effects on society at large.

    Jaques’ objective was transforming societal culture by creating functional workplaces. To suggest that someone who was clearly S-VIII to S X was not concerned with cultural distinction and evolution is (and excuse the bluntness) a tad naive.

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  7. Thanks for turning on the light Forrest! I”ve been feeling like I’m not getting anywhere lately. I get so caught up in work and trying to stay on top of bills that i feel like i should be making alot of money following my art. You are so right in saying that we only have goals that are really hard to make a dime with.

    Thanks!

    Yes, yes i know the original post was is 2008. 🙂

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