The curse of being an over-achiever

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I spent most of my high school years hiding behind my achievements.

At that time, I didn’t mind being known as ‘the girl with the perfect diploma’. There was no need for me to be something more – my awards and medals spoke enough for me. It was a safe, people-pleasing choice that made both my teachers and my family proud.

While my classmates were trying out different things and developing a personality, I was always very specific with the things I did. It was the all or nothing attitude – if I was good at something, it stayed. If I was only mediocre, or God forbid, bad at it – I quit. Sports? Forget it! Singing, dancing, acting? No, thanks. I was good at languages, but not a natural polyglot. I was a fair writer, but never the best one. And if I wasn’t the best, what was the point of doing it? So I simply stopped writing.

Over the years, I found something I was good at – Maths. The competitions seemed suited to my personality, but I suddenly realised I wasn’t the only one aiming to win. There were other students who were equally smart or even smarter; who worked harder or were simply more talented. So I pushed myself to stay the best, not even thinking what the point of it all was.

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Deep inside, I was never satisfied.

If I won a competition, I was already worrying what would happen on the next one. If I didn’t win, I was my harshest critic – I could have done more, practiced more, achieved more. But what really terrified me was the fact that if Maths suddenly disappeared, I would have nothing left. I was no one without the competitions and prizes to define me.

When high school was over, I had to keep on achieving. After all, I didn’t know any other way to feel happy and to make those around me proud. It was my inner insecurity that made me hide behind my achievements. It was also the reason why I chose to study engineering.

I never asked myself whether I would really like to do that – because I think that deep inside, I knew it wasn’t right for me. I didn’t love playing with tools and I wasn’t curious how the car or the washing machine worked. What I liked was finding great clothes in thrift stores and styling outfits. Writing, teaching and creating things of my own. Something on the opposite side of the spectrum.

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So why did I pick engineering?

Honestly, because I liked the way it sounded. Prestigious, serious, difficult. Like if you were an engineer, you were straightaway someone important. And I wanted to be important. In the last 4 years I’ve loved seeing the expressions of people – surprised, amazed and respectful – when I told them I studied civil engineering. It was my new form of a prize – impress with your studies and your job.

It seemed like everyone around me had drunk from the same bottle, and in our collective mind having an employable, prestigious degree was all that mattered in life. Not satisfaction, not happiness – just how high up your job is ranked in the most recent Times table.

I hate to admit that I wasn’t any different. I used to look down on people who did degrees on subjects they enjoyed or found interesting, but that were rather ‘unemployable’. It seemed kind of pointless – like what are you thinking, people? How are you going to find a job after Uni? Yet recently, I’ve come to realise something.

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You are not your degree.

Having a Harvard Law school diploma if you hate law doesn’t make any sense. Being the best at engineering school doesn’t make you a good engineer, nor does it mean you’ll actually love practicing it. Take me for example. I should have realized this much sooner, but I didn’t want to listen to my inner voice.

It was only when I actually tried working in engineering that I realized it’s not something I enjoy doing. I am forever thankful for my overachieving self, because the only reason I applied for an internship was that I wanted to get ahead. That was probably the only time where wanting to do things earlier than I was supposed to helped me. The more I worked, the more the harsh reality hit me. Spending my 9-5 in an office, working on big projects wasn’t something I imagined myself doing for my whole life. It didn’t excite me, and what’s worse – I felt indifferent. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

Some of you may think there was something wrong with my job. But no, I was extremely lucky to work in a really great company, with lovely people who supported me and only wished me the best. That’s what made me feel even worse. Because I wish I could blame it all on a shitty job. I couldn’t, because it wasn’t the job that needed fixing, it was me. I was experiencing the nightmare of every structural engineer – the walls I’ve spent years building started to crack and fall down.

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So if I wasn’t supposed to be Mili the engineer, who was I then?

What was I supposed to do with my life? I think that athletes feel the same way after a trauma that prevents them from having a career in sport. When you have invested years into something, it hurts when it’s being taken away from you – no matter whether it’s by force or by choice. You feel lost because there is no clear path or schedule for you to follow anymore.

I cried a lot during my summer internship. It wasn’t because there was something bad going on in my life – in fact, all was great. It was because I started to painfully realise that if I didn’t want to hate waking up every single day, I needed to find something else that made me happy. The advice I heard from ‘adults’ was crazy – I was told that ‘this will pass’, ‘you’ll get used to the 9-5’ and ‘it is supposed to be like this’. How is it supposed to be like this? I’ve worked before and never felt anything similar. I knew that I could excel at any job if I wanted to. But at the only job where I was supposed to excel, I didn’t want to. Because it wasn’t what I ultimately dreamed of.

In the last 4 years I’ve lived with the idea that I will become an engineer. In a family of engineers, there was hardly any other option. And it was only through doing it that I found out engineering wasn’t what I wanted. If I had sat in my bedroom and thought of whom I wanted to be, I would still be in the same place I was in year 1. Studying and applying like crazy for engineering internships and jobs. Because I would be thinking that’s what I wanted.

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After this realization, I decided to change my approach.

I’ve always tried to narrow my choices starting from the things I wasn’t good at, things that weren’t ‘prestigious’ or well enough paid. This time, I tried to remind myself of what I actually enjoyed doing. It wasn’t easy! When you’ve spent your whole life doing only one thing, you don’t really know what you enjoy anymore.

But I remembered I liked teaching and explaining things to my friends and my sister. That I liked writing and expressing myself creatively. It was a side of me that was oppressed for years, if not for my whole adult life. As a child, I wanted to teach other kids how to do certain things. It made me so happy when someone thanked me because I’ve helped them understand a tricky concept. I liked simplifying things so all of my classmates would get them. What’s more, I loved being admired, respected and trusted.

That’s why I started blogging. I was desperately looking for something else out there that would excite me and make me feel like myself again. Everything about blogging was challenging – from my inability to understand even basic HTML, to how to take beautiful photos. Heck, I couldn’t even write well. But then, one by one, people started finding me and thanking me for something I’ve written or said. It felt like I could make someone happy, even if it was only for 5 minutes. Like I could change people’s lives, one person at a time.

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Some may call this an identity crisis.

But surprisingly, right now I feel the most at peace with myself I’ve ever been. I am not searching for myself; I’m rather allowing different parts of me to finally blossom. The writer, the creative, the entrepreneur, even the mediocre one. Because you need to be mediocre until you finally become good.

Don’t get me wrong – engineering is great and I still enjoy studying it. But maturity is about appreciating something great and being able to say ‘It’s not right for me’. So if you read this far, I urge you to think about whether you’re happy with what you’re doing. Do you love your job, or the idea of your job, your title and the respect that comes with it? Are you afraid to try something else because you’re not that good at it? That you can’t make a living out of it?

Right now I’m embarking on a journey for which I feel completely unprepared. But if these last few years thought me one thing, it was to enjoy the ride. Not just the destination, but the process as well. So I try not to worry whether I’ll become the next big blogger. Instead, I find joy in improving every day. Taking better photos, writing valuable posts, connecting with people. Every small victory means the world to me, and I don’t see it ever getting boring. In an industry where things change every day, you constantly need to keep track. And even though I would love the comfort of a stable job, I know that ultimately, that wouldn’t make me happy.

What about you?

{ironically, these photos were taken at the School of Engineering}

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Sweater: H&M (in store only), in pink here, similar here | Skirt: thrifted, similar | Jacket: H&M | Boots: Dune | Bag: Zara (thrifted),  similar | Watch: Juicy Couture HRH (thrifted) 

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  • Girl, you are KILLING IT. This outfit is amazing!

  • I feel this on so many levels! I just finished my masters in anatomy and forensic anthropology, and haven’t found a job yet. I’m looking at having to go back for my PhD if I want to work in my chosen field. While I still love it, going back to school for another 6-8 years just isn’t something I wanting to do right now. Which leaves me at “What do I do now?”. I’ve switched gears and thankfully chosen a path (and added some side hustles like blogging along the way) but it’s been rough. But I know we’ll make it! It might not be tomorrow, but we’ll get there!

    • That’s so exciting Cameron! I completely get you – finishing a masters is a feat of itself, and having 6-8 years more can be really daunting! Proud of you for getting into blogging – I’m sure you’ll get a lot from it! 🙂 Good luck and I’m sure we’ll get there!

      xx Mili

  • Neha Reddy

    Lovelyyy post! Love the photos and your outfit babe

  • Girl I was half way through my masters when I realized I hated my major and never wanted to work in it. A little late, but it’s never too late. Since I’ve had 4-5 totally different creative jobs. I just went for things, tried them, and when I wanted to try something else….I did. Just allow yourself to go with the flow. You have no idea what the future will bring. You can literally be anything and you can do it over and over until your last day. Love your style, keep going 😉

    • Thank you so much Kat, really appreciate your advice and example! It’s always inspiring to find out that there’s someone with a similar situation who’s worked their way ahead 🙂 I’m a bit scared but also really excited to keep going and make blogging work for me, because I truly love it!

      xx Mili

  • Sarah Jean

    You were lucky to figure that out in an internship. Some people work years and years before they figure they want to do something else

    • Yeah I agree Sarah, I was lucky I didn’t have to wait until I finish my degree 🙂

  • Привет! Изключително ми беше интересно да прочета този пост и размислите ти по темата. Мисля че, всеки един от нас се сблъсква с избора между това, което е разумно и това, което го прави щастлив. Дано постигнеш целите си!
    П.С. А това яке + ботушите, са просто страхотни. Чудесна комбинация на outfit- a!
    Успех с блогването! 😉

    denisday.org| Beauty & Plus Size Fashion

    • Привет, Дени 🙂 Съжалявам, че чак сега отговарям – Disqus не ми праща имейли, когато някой коментира, ще разследвам! Благодаря ти много за милите думи и за подкрепата! Радвам се, че ти харесва аутфита 🙂

      Успех с блога ти!

      Мили

  • Tia Brown @ thatgoldenlife.com

    Aw I love your style!!

  • Vanya

    Много съм горда с теб! И аз наскоро имах подобни разсъждения, ще се радвам да си поговорим скоро за това! Не спирай да преследваш страстта и интересите си, най-важното е да си щастлива! Обичам те! <3