I’m a perfectionist, and it’s something I’ve struggled with since at least high school. It mostly affects me in my work life, and it affected me immensely when I was in school. I’ll never forget getting a “C” on my first legal writing assignment in law school. I remember crying in my car after class to Dan and questioning my decision to go to law school. I was only a month in and already panicking. I was dramatic, but I was so crushed because I told myself that anything less than an “A” was failing. Wikipedia describes perfectionism to a tee: a personality trait characterized by “a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”
With perfectionism comes the almost daily feelings of inadequacy. I’ve set such unrealistic (and sometimes downright absurd) expectations of how I should be performing, that when I’m not reaching that standard, I feel worthless or useless or, worse, like an imposter. This sounds unhealthy, right? The thing is – I know that I’m not perfect, and I know that I need God. We all need God.
I suppose in a lot of ways I fear laziness. I want to be perfect at work so I push myself constantly, wayyyyy past the edges of being uncomfortable. Let’s not confuse perfectionism with ambition. Ambition is the strong desire to achieve or do something. Perfectionism is wanting to do something perfectly. In other words, my drive has morphed into an obsession to be perfect at whatever my ambitions take me to.
The worst part of perfectionism is the emotions I go through as a result of my perceived failures. This is not the same as fear of failure. I have no problem diving in head first into the unknown. It’s that I expect to get it 100% right on the first try, and it’s the resulting feeling of inadequacy when I don’t that sucks so much. I am often thrown into a lot of things at work. I learn best this way because hands-on experience is the best, but it leaves me vulnerable to mistakes, especially if it’s in a new area that I’m unfamiliar with. That floundering feeling is the worst, but this is also the place where people grow the most. Work shouldn’t be easy – it should be challenging you every day. If you’ve stopped learning, it might be time to look for another job. Instead of looking at my mistakes as growth opportunities, I beat myself up until the cows come home. My poor husband. He is constantly telling me it’s going to be OK or that my “mistake” isn’t really a mistake or that my mistake isn’t that big of a deal. Bless his heart. But, it’s such a big deal for me.
I have no idea where my perfectionism came from. My parents never expected perfection. They were proud of me always and helped me learn from my failures. These high performance standards are innate. I was born with this ridiculous, almost uncontainable, desire to be really, really good at whatever I do work-wise at any cost. But, I’m quickly realizing that this path is self-destructive. Burn out is inevitable and perfection is unattainable.
Until Next Time,