Fame, perfectionism and pain

How do you judge yourself?

I have a friend who is talented beyond measure, a gentle soul of great intelligence who attracts and inspires all around him. That is, with one exception; himself. He has met the enemy and found him within.

My friend feels trapped by his dreams; too defiant to give up but reluctant to proceed. He is trapped by his high standards of success and nothing else will do. There are many like him.

When perfectionism and self doubt combine you can be your own worst enemy. By freeing yourself from this nexus you can better use your time to accomplish more with less anxiety. In short, you can get out of your own way.

How do we define perfectionism in this context?

It’s the process of stretching for excellence in areas of your life that you find purposeful. This is very good. However this sword has another edge, which slices deeply.  That’s the process where you hold to incredibly high standards, demand perfect compliance from yourself, and make your worth contingent on meeting almost impossible standards. Depending on your definition, this pursuit of excellence can be an all or nothing proposition.

  A belief that your worth depends on meeting seemingly impossible standards is a breeding ground for debilitating emotions, such as anxiety and depression. If you dread the thought of performing poorly, you may experience anxiety and so may not have the confidence to even try. It’s easy to overanalyse and then get paralysed.

Your fear is based on what you think of yourself compared to your standards. Standards you feel you can’t achieve despite positive self talk and the ideal of an aligned belief system. It sounds great in the self-help books but the real world just doesn’t work that way. Despite the positive spin you can’t lie to yourself or mask your fear that others will also judge you as a failure.

The more important the action is – testing yourself in a music career, opening a business, writing a book – the longer you delay and the more pressure you put on yourself; and then your negative feelings amplify.

From here the pressure builds until you find yourself in an almost impossible stalemate of fear from which to move forward, but with an even greater fear of giving up your dream – a seemingly self perpetuating doom loop. If you don’t give up you still have a valid goal to hang onto.  If you don’t attempt it then you can’t fail so can’t destroy the dream. So you stay right there, right where you are.

You see your future results as successes or failures and this directly impacts your sense of personal worth. You may feel others judge you to this standard when they don’t; rather they just see your inactivity and wonder why, especially when they see your talent and believe your dream is achievable, if only you would try.

In your mind you’re a winner or loser, worthy or worthless, strong or weak or any number of other self destroying emotional labels. No one else can see it but it’s a sizzling brand on your soul.  You expect a level of performance from yourself. Your goals may be reasonable. Your expectations are not. You fall short and feel like a failure.

Perfectionism can feel absolute. It’s not enough to just do well; you have to do perfectly well. When attaining perfection becomes a contingency for personal worth, anxiety is the consequence; particularly when you see your actions as representing your place in the world.

So what happens? You expect a great result. You doubt whether you can achieve the results you want. You have an urge to do something less threatening.  So you wait until you can be perfect. This day never comes because you can’t be perfect. Certainly not at the start – 10,000 hours is the standard to reach master status. Can you bring yourself to start with even one hour?

You need to accept yourself as a fallible person and do the best you can without demanding perfection from yourself. You’re not your results, because results change based on so many variables and it’s impossible to anticipate them all. Drop the ball today, kick the goal tomorrow.

If you let go of the past and take the heat out of ‘what it means to me’ and just do it because you enjoy it, then your actions will probably happen naturally. You might even feel what you so often lack: that feeling of being ‘in the flow’. You need to let go of the past, especially when you’re scared of tipping your heart into your commitments again.

Stop looking backwards and start enjoying today. Accept that self worth and results aren’t the same thing; they’re not even linked. If you can you’re on your way to accepting yourself and achieving what you deserve.

In the end it is about inspiring people, and others don’t expect you to be perfect. They just find inspiration where they find it. If you act, maybe they’ll find it in you. Pick something that means a lot to you – and that will you will enjoy – and ‘release’ the rest. Set a goal, a stepping stone, one that you can achieve. Give yourself a break. Don’t run the marathon today, just get around the block. The marathon is for another day. You just need to make a start.

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4 Responses to “Fame, perfectionism and pain”

  1. adamnrave Says:

    This is fine advice, WLBB, and well said. I’m often in here reading your posts, and don’t often comment. But this is clear, heartfelt advice. Many thanks for the wise words.

    • WorkLifeBankBalance Says:

      Thankyou. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and were able to get something from it. There is a little bit of my friend in us all and we all have our own challenges to face. I’m working to face mine everyday!

  2. paulhassing Says:

    I think I may know that person. And yes, it’s a damn shame. Funny how people who get cancer often say it was just the kick in the pants they needed to get important life stuff done.

    I like the saying: ‘The only difference between a rut and a grave is the size’. Every time I feel myself starting to rust on to something, I strive to break the bond. But it is getting harder with age. Perhaps I too must touch death to fully appreciate life.

    • WorkLifeBankBalance Says:

      Thanks Paul, hopefully you dont have to touch death to experience life. Sometimes we just need to let go, focus on where we are today and set a path for tomorrow. Sounds easy but rarely is. It always starts with that first step …

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