An inventor, an activist, and a scholar walk into a room …

What would happen if you put a bunch of overachievers in a room together – leaders, inventors, visionaries, the people who get stuff done, across areas of expertise, generations, backgrounds, perspectives – and asked them how do they do that, why do they do that, and what made them that way?

Could you solve world peace? Could you extract the recipe for making everyone into an overachiever? If you also invite the people who love and live with these people, would you find out if overachieving is even a good thing? Could you find out what that word overachieving even means, why that word has so much baggage for marginalized people, and why Western culture equates the fundamental value of people with their amount of achievement?

Based on the stories and words of real ‘overachievers,’ the Overachievers Web Series, produced by Wonderlust Productions, explores the complexity behind the compulsion to achieve excessively.

An Idea is Born

On a road trip a couple years ago, we listened to the radio announce the MacArthur Foundation Grant winners. “I bet that probably drives their siblings crazy,” someone said, and we passed a pleasant batch of miles speculating on the comic family rivalries something like a “genius” grant probably makes happen.

Fast forward to meeting at the Wonderlust Productions rehearsal space. Through the live theater work we make, we’ve been able to bring communities together whose stories have an outsized impact on our state but are often misunderstood or ignored. After In My Heart: The Adoption Play Project sold out, we began wondering whether there were other ways to tell these stories—so that no one would miss out just because they didn’t hear about it in time or there was a blizzard on the night they had tickets to the show (sadly true story).

We were also looking for new communities to work with, and we wanted to experiment with new kinds of stories to tell. Someone remembered that car ride.

If you’ve ever met an “overachiever” (or you are one), then you know that overachievers share some common characteristics like high standards and strong work ethics; they also probably don’t self-identify as an overachiever; they’re too busy to tell you their story, and they may even be absolutely positive that no one else understands them. You may have watched (or made) some pretty comic over-achievement happen right under your nose.  Overachievers definitely have a huge impact on how we live our lives! we thought. Maybe it’d be fun if we learned how to make a web series, with Overachievers. 

What did we learn?

In the process, we discovered that Overachievers are fun and impressive, but they are often lonely and feel out of sync at times with themselves and others. We discovered that while there are common characteristics that achievers share, there are also multiple varieties of overachievers. (Want to find out which one you are? Take our quiz.) We discovered that the word is not just hard to define but actually weaponized in minority communities where, as one participant pointed out, “You have to overachieve just to be allowed in the room.” We discovered that the United States has a uniquely obsessive relationship to achievement, going as far back as Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and the whole myth of self-reliance.

As with all the work we do, we discovered that when people are allowed to share their individual experiences, without being judged, the similarities that they discover between each other make the differences easier to love and that we all have so much to offer each other and ourselves. Helping people discover that they are not alone on their journey while also celebrating their individuality is one of the reasons we do this work. It was gratifying to jump into a difficult-to-define community of people who, by whatever definition, have no time to waste—and to help those people enjoy the rewards of acceptance, community, insight, and art.

What’s next?

We have seven episodes mapped out exploring overachievement and how we value people’s worth and work. We hope to finish writing and producing this series in 2021 with an ever-larger and larger circle of overachievers stories spiraling outward but eventually coming together for a satisfying series climax. Contact us if you want to attend a story circle, act in an episode, or otherwise support this work. You can help us complete the season with a tax-deductible year-end contribution here.

You might want to get or gift a handy Overachievers Web Series Life Balance Plannerbased on the unique wit and wisdom of the overachievers who participated in story circles with us.

We also hope that what we learned about the medium of film can help us have a greater impact in all the communities we work with. If you’re curious about our work in the adoption, veterans, government, college, and incarceration communities, please visit our website and consider getting involved.

Special Thanks 

Pete Marcy, the most diligent, patient, and talented cinematographer, editor, sound editor, and composer we could imagine. 

Producers Bruce and Jean Johnson, Bill Bednarcyzk, and Mary Beidler Gearen.

Waite House, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Pillsbury United Communities, Willow Midwives, The Olk Family, Augsburg University, Professor Sarah Meyers and Professor Robert Cowgill, Paul Moehring, Anna Hickey, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Leif Wallin, Briana Patnode, Margaret Reid, and all of our Kickstarter contributors!

Wonderlust Productions

Our mission is to forge new ways of seeing our common experiences by creating new narrative art that transform the past into a better future.

Our method is to listen, wonder, create, and repeat.

Wonderlust Productions illuminates a community’s story through performance and art, mixing community members from across generations, ethnicities, and perspectives, alongside an ensemble of professional actors, designers, writers, and directors.

Together, we create a new narrative art based on high-quality dramatic storytelling and artistry; inspired by community experience; embracing the inherent conflict of opposing perspectives within a community; epic enough to encompass diversity and inspire transformative experience.