I found the Late Bloomers book full of witty descriptions and even therapeutic. The captivating collection of short stories touched me in such a peculiar way that we connected with Eveliina Nieminen to discuss her take on this powerfully curated flash fiction work. In this conversation with the author, she enlightens us about the book and its brilliantly unexpected, yet surprisingly familiar world of overachievers, and growing some good habits to abandon being inclined to the trait. Interestingly, the author herself divides her time between commercial and artistic storytelling, and is not exactly new to the concept of ‘overachieving’ on a personal level. So the question remains: is being an overachiever a good thing after all? Read more to become the best version of yourself.
Words: Meri Frig
How did you come across the idea for the book?
I have been writing short stories for long. At some point, I noticed that they all have a common theme: the characters in all stories were always aiming fiercely towards some direction, yet they did not necessarily know what they were aiming for, their goals were not clear. I realised they were all overachievers. I noticed this is a very topical theme. Overachieving is glorified today and people are proud if they are overachievers, boasting about how much they are capable of doing in different areas of life. I also used to do this! I cannot say I do not understand it, the exact motives behind the behaviour, but I can say I only now distinguish the meaningful life from the life permeated by the uncontrollable desire to achieve and achieve. In retrospect, I question if this kind of life really is ‘the good life’.
You have gone through personal experience of being an overachiever. Can you share with us your own story?
Right after upper secondary school, I had this period in my life when I was overachieving. I had divided my days into different sections. First, I had school and after I had finished my homework, I had a physical activity, immediately followed by a cultural activity, such as singing, then a cultural or a spiritual activity, such as reading. I was always reading some book that I thought was very important to read, or I got acquainted with some type of material that would add knowledge, and I was shifting from one activity to another without leaving any gaps for self-reflection. At the time, I only had an hour of time to rest at the end of each day, and in the morning, it started all over again. I didn’t have time for friends back then. I remember feeling that if someone were to stop me and start talking to me, I would be worried about the minutes that would go lost. That’s insane. This cycle lasted for three years, more or less. Then I realised that all the joy had disappeared from life and I wasn’t keeping in touch with my friends. I also noticed that I had not reached my goals. Because, at that point in my life, those were not very clear to me. I was just in a rush to get somewhere and wasting energy on the wrong things.
“I am only concerned and astonished about the fact that people don’t seem to have any idea themselves — where they want to go, what is their purpose, what is important to them, what do they like and what do they not like. They are taking these ideas from external sources.”
Did you make some lifestyle changes after you noticed you were overachieving?
Firstly, I let go of all habits that were not based on my own wants or needs. The motives were extrinsic: I was thinking that I should be like this, or I should do these kinds of things. I let go of everything that wasn’t important to me, and started to add habits that made me feel well, such as being with my friends, being in nature, practicing art. This was a gradually evolving process, of course, because I had been ‘achieving’ for such a long time. There was no miracle recipe to recovery, but I had to self-learn and adapt for many years, really, to step back and tone it down a bit. Even today, I have to stay conscious about letting go of this pursuit – such as when I get easily excited about happenings and notice that I am involved in too many activities and duties. When the pace becomes too rapid and overwhelming to cope, I have to remind myself to take it easy again.
Do you think that it is typical for overachievers to achieve in everything, in all areas of life?
Yes, I do think that. In the past, achieving was mostly limited to professional success and work. But today, we picture a ‘super-human’ who tries to be the best version of themselves in all parts of life: in relationships, well-being, keeping up meticulously with their physical and mental state, self-aware appearance-wise, and so on. Perhaps this is why life has become so exhausting — because there is no single area where we’re not expected of being maximalists or told to feel insufficient. We can always improve. Then the question is, what is human development? What is positive development or development that feeds the soul?
The messages that the market economy sends are quite odd, frankly. The market economy has smartly taken advantage of this, appealing to people that are endlessly trying to develop and enhance themselves, that goes beyond reason. I am only concerned and astonished about the fact that people don’t seem to have any idea themselves — where they want to go, what is their purpose, what is important to them, what do they like and what do they not like. They are taking these ideas from external sources. Perhaps this is mostly true about young people, when people mature, they also get wiser and do not get involved in anything like this, like being influenced by too many external factors to feel complete and satisfied with themselves.
“The motives were extrinsic: I was thinking that I should be like this, or I should do these kinds of things. I let go of everything that wasn’t important to me, and started to add habits that made me feel well, such as being with my friends, being in nature, practicing art.”
I associated overachieving immediately with the recent discussion on the subject concerning many young girls, specifically, being perfectionists, and the influence of external factors, such as the ever-so powerful social media, bestowed upon them.
Women, in general, have had the need to always show twice as much how skilled they are, to make it in the world that is built by men. They have often been raised to be ‘good girls’ and conscientious, whereas boys have been allowed to be more carefree. Therefore, girls perhaps are more prone to develop achiever characteristics, or become perfectionists. Because of the societal influences where they grow up, and of course, peer pressure only adds to that. But, innately, boys and girls may have as much or as little these types of tendencies. It is surely a relatively significant group of people — these young women that always aim for perfection. But at work, I have also seen a lot of men, of all ages, that act like this. I feel that they have never really become aware of the motives that drive their behaviour. In a way, they always feel insufficient, even if they were older. It is a different story altogether, if your behaviour is based on your own passions and you are aware of your goals.
If it is pure ambition that directs you, then you are doing everything to the public, so to speak: for external rewards. This exists everywhere nowadays. In particular, this exists in the consultancy business. They even look for the type of person that would always be willing to push themselves through the last mile and constantly need to feel accepted. Every work task has to be finished with 100% success rate. These are the best consultants, because they are always anxious about how well they performed today, today, and today. For example, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company prefers to hire these types of people, they look for these characteristics in the personality tests they use in recruiting.
“Women, in general, have had the need to always show twice as much how skilled they are, to make it in the world that is built by men.”
Can you tell us about the novel flash fiction style of writing?
In Finland, flash fiction did not really exist yet. In United States it does — it entails stories that are one to four pages long, one thousand words at most. The stories are similar to songs — both can contain a whole world inside them. Both songs and flash fiction stories offer character and plot development in a very short text. With flash fiction, I don’t mean that today we only have time to read short texts like these, or that people do not have time to read long fiction stories. We have short novels as well, although novels are typically much longer than flash fiction stories. It fits these times very well: you can enjoy prose in different forms. Just as we can enjoy music and videos in different forms, and still get a lot of food for thought. In one story, you can have different layers. You can read it many times and always get a new thought. Just as poetry, it can give you a gift that you can savor and ponder what it means to you. Personally, I am very infatuated with flash fiction. So I am pushing the boundaries in Finland as well, hoping to nurture a solid fanbase for the genre.