In my last blog, How to Fail at Suceeding, I expressed my confusion and utter disbelief that I was still a perfectionist. I swore to work on it, and I have, sort of.
In case you’re not familiar with how my zeal for perfection affects my life, here’s the darkest way I can find to describe it to you.
I am a perfectionist.
I have knelt at the altar of perfection for as long as I can remember. Although I’ve traveled deep into my memories, I have yet to pinpoint the moment when the compulsion for perfection became as vital as the air I breathe.
The thought of not striving for perfection, being perfect, or worse yet, being considered less than perfect stops me in my tracks. Fear grips me like fingers wrapped around my neck, squeezing tightly, intent on separating me from the air I need. If I am not perfect, then why do I exist?
I strive to strive no more. I no longer want to dangle the carrot of perfection in front of me, guiding me through every single aspect of my life. It’s exhausting and sucking the life out of me, just as I feared not being perfect would do. The hands around my throat are my own.
It’s okay. I’m okay. I really did enjoy writing that part, though. So dramatic!
I still feel that way, even after the HUGE development I had in April about my perfectionism.
I took the Gallup Clifton Strengths test to learn more about myself. I wanted to discover my strengths so I could focus on those instead of running away from my weaknesses.
The results were life-changing. As I read about my five strengths, I felt like the words were written by someone with a life-long, personal knowledge of me, and that person really understood me. It was freaky, but the good kind of freaky.
So here is the list in order:
Check out number two! Holy cow!! Since I don’t want to run afoul of any copyright issues, I will paraphrase their description.
Those “talented” in the Competition theme.
- Measure their performance against how others perform
- Strive to finish first (not third!)
- Being the best is of utter importance
- Set extremely high expectations for themselves (nah, not me!)
- Cannot find any semblance of contentment until they do their best and reach their goals
- Regularly compare results, scores, rankings, etc., to others
- Are drawn to competitions where only one person can finish at the top
Yikes! How in the world did this happen? So, my perfectionism is part of my personality? I need to reach for my wine now; stand by.
A glass of my favorite Malbec makes anything palatable!
I love possessing the four other strengths, but Competition, not so much. My perfectionism causes me so much pain; how can it be good for me?
Well, let’s dig deeper to find out.
First, I need to challenge my own assertion that perfectionism causes me pain. Does it really? Yes, and no.
Striving for perfection does not cause me any pain, and conversely, it makes me very happy. I love pushing myself to do the best I can in every situation. I don’t think I ever loved the idea of competing against others. Sure, I can get excited about a competition when other humans are involved, but it does not thrill me as much as you would think. It does, however, stress me out because I put so much pressure on myself to win. Not place second or third, but win.
The competition I love is one where the only competitor is myself. I push to increase my time when I walk, finish tasks more quickly and efficiently than the time before, and learn things I was pretty sure I could not. That’s my sweet spot.
The pain of perfection comes in when the world around me shows me that I achieved a less-than-desired outcome.
- Not winning first place in a competition.
- Failing to attain the highest rating that could be achieved.
- Missing the mark and not becoming a YouTube sensation right out of the gate (or ever).
- A client finding a mistake I made (I drive myself crazy when it happens)
- Social media posts that don’t get the number of likes I desire.
- Taking too long to finish a task because I missed something or made a mistake.
I could create a much longer list, but I think you get the idea. Much of the above list might seem like petty grievances, but, when you are a highly competitive person, they are tantamount to undisputable failure. And, a more “normal” person would take their licks and keep on going. I am not that person, and that’s where the pain comes in.
I berate myself for hours, days, and even weeks when I don’t measure up to what I set out to achieve. I use it as evidence that I am not intelligent, talented, creative, and the critical and painful adjective worthy.
Somewhere in my life, I started to equate perfectionism, which inherently means winning to me, with being worthy. If I am not perfect, if I do not win, I am not worthy. Or so I believe.
But why in the world would I ever think I was not worthy? What a stupid question! I should really read my own book!
I was raised to feel worthless. Although I now intellectually understand that just because two crazy people wished me to see myself as unworthy so they could feel better about themselves, I am, inherently and unequivocally, quite worthy.
So what’s the disconnect here? Bueller? Bueller?
My childhood worthlessness indoctrination also included a strong tie to performance. They also sent a very loud, clear, and constant message that only perfection and winning would give me a chance to be worthy in their eyes. The worthy bar was set so very high, and it never stayed in one place. Today’s accomplishments might garner some worthiness but do the same tomorrow, and you’ll find yourself back in the land of the unworthy because, you know, you have to keep moving the bar higher.
Nothing was ever, ever, ever, going to be good enough for them to think I was worthy. I chased the carrot of perfection for so long, it is now part of who I am. Thanks.
But I don’t need to keep chasing, right? I know the truth, and I can make different choices, right? Yes, I am an adult and in charge of my own life. Well, the little girl inside me, Ruth, has not come to that conclusion just yet. She is stuck in the cycle of chasing the carrot (she does love carrots!). She stays stuck because she is in pain. She desperately wants to know she is loved for who she is, not what she achieves. She wants to FEEL that she is worthy, loved, and appreciated for the amazing person she is.
No more performing. No more chasing. She just wants to BE.
And so do I.