I know how it feels when you overachieve but get nothing to show for it. I'm sorry for you, it's not a nice feeling. You almost feel betrayed a little bit, and feel existential about doing any work anymore. If you're passionate about your job, so I know it can really get you down because it feels a bit like a personal attack. Sometimes its good to your manager about it, unless you bite the bullet.
The justifications are:
1. If you didn't get a performance grade above meeting your expectations, then others' work is being valued more, or has been more important in the last year. It's a bit of a PR stunt really. If your client has given the company great feedback and made a big difference, that's where the salary rises go.
2. You kind of have to do the impossible to get far. Obviously it's not an exact science, but I'd imagine you have to be working way beyond your hours (e.g. til 8 or 9pm) on occasion, (only if others can identify that you have done so), work on the weekend when appropriate, and most of all, think about what the client really wants & do whatever you can to get there, and get ahead of the game with them - predict what they want. Plus you have to be an all rounded person - you need to know a lot about everything and always be available to help others, even if it means you have to work late.
3. Another way to look at it is responsibility: the more responsible you are for more things, the more people will know your name.
If you are on a fixed salary, then maybe it's not worth trying to impress anyone too much, or devote your life into the project (even if it interests you), as you won't be well rewarded yet.
If you feel you are at level higher than your pay grade, that's 2 reasons:
1. Do you have degree? A degree says to everyone that you deserve better. Until you've proven yourself, no matter how good you think you are, it's worthless to anyone. It's like saying you're a doctor after you've read 300 books on being a doctor, but you didn't go to university or do a degree. Would you trust that person?
2. Many companies values its clients & money more than it does the personal careers of each of its staff. In other words, they don't care that you're good at x, y and z, they only care that you've actually made the company some money. It's not about what you have the potential to do, it's about what you've actually done - how much money and time have you saved the company. Not how intelligent you are. Intelligence isn't rewarded, making money is.