I need to learn how to fail and how to have confidence in that failure.
People make mistakes. I understand that. What I can’t seem to get through my thick skull is that I am allowed to make mistakes too. I treat my failures or mistakes like the movie Independence Day and the aliens are coming. Where is Will Smith?
But in all seriousness, when a friend makes a mistake I try to help or make them feel better. Instead, when it comes to myself, I have bad dreams over what I could potentially do wrong personally and in business. When I do make a blunder, one of the worst feelings come over–this sick to my stomach shame. I’ve no tolerance for my potential mistakes or the ones I actually make. Grace is hard to find when I consider myself.
It comes in waves for me. For months, I seem to be giving up my perfectionism to God (I call myself a recovering perfectionist) and then it rears its ugly head again. I am trying to figure out the connection between those times when I am able to give it all to God and those times I hold myself to an extremely high standard.
Maybe it is because I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me in a big way several times in my life? Recently, I was talking to my dear old mum about those times. I just said, “I feel like people have a certain emotional capacity, like a gas tank, and so much went down in such a short amount of time, at a time in my life when I was most vulnerable that it just created this perfect storm and…like, I kind of hope God recognizes how full it is.” I know that’s not how it works; it’s just how it feels sometimes.
Let’s talk about love languages (I am very much rolling my eyes at myself right now). Last time I took it mine was quality time. But affirmation in new relationships, specifically rocky relationships, or when I am trying or beginning something new, I need a pat on the back–which makes me feel so dumb. Want to hear something that makes me feel even more ridiculous? On one level, I just want to make sure I am doing things to someone’s satisfaction and if I am not, I want to know how I can do it to their satisfaction (I’ve been told by professors and managers that I am very good at taking constructive criticism and it is true that I love it because I always want to be better, better, better) but then when it isn’t about the things I do or make or work related, I just want to know that I am liked (so that’s the most ridiculous part).
All of this adds more stress to my body and my chronic illness is triggered by stress. So I’ll be getting to the bottom of why my perfectionist tendencies have been higher than normal this summer.
Are you a perfectionist–recovering or otherwise? What helps you?
I don’t know how to run marathons. I’m speaking metaphorically here (although literally, that sentence would be true, too). I know how to sprint. I know how to dig my hooves into the dirt, heart pumping in my chest, from the moment the race begins, to the moment I cross the finish line. Yes, I am a comparing myself to a (race) horse. Give me a goal. Point me towards it. No need for blinders in my case. There are stories of horses giving themselves heart attacks just to cross that finish line. I’ve come close to doing the same. And I can’t just finish. I must finish perfectly.
Then something happened to me. It started with a random and one time seizure in Rome and ended with a diagnosis for a condition in which stress and pain are deeply connected. Um, stress? Who me? Yes, maybe it is true that for years my mom warmed my feet in her lap and said things like, “Nina, you just put so much pressure on yourself. You don’t need to.” And yes, it is also true that no one ever told me that A’s were the only acceptable grade. When the diagnosis came, in the middle of my junior year of college, my dad begged me, “C’s, Nina! C’s!”
Give me a goal, even the hint of a goal, and I will crush it. I’m a racehorse or better yet, my physical body is the racehorse and my brain is the cruel and relentless jockey, willing to push the animal beneath him (jockeys are notoriously male) to a relentless and impossible to maintain pace (if you want to get real with this metaphor).
A sprint is just fine for fifty yards. But pacing oneself for longer lengths of time, for a lifetime, let’s say, is a whole different matter–one I am learning more and more about, from that day in Rome through today. I don’t have it down, by any means (obviously). And just when I learn how to pace myself in one area of life, I find myself challenged in another. I choose to believe this is for my good.
Since I am in sales, the year is divided into quarters and each quarter is both a marathon and a sprint. These quarters have proven to be difficult for me to understand in relation to stress, because sales is inherently stressful. Anyone who tells you differently must have ice water in his or her veins. (Also, please give me this person’s phone number. I know a lot of people who would like to talk to him or her.)
So, you can understand my friends and family’s concern when I flew across the country for a sales job. Sometimes I call them out of breath, out of words, tired to the bone, or manically crazed from talking to people all day. “I have to hit my number,” I tell them, like I am an addict. And I am an addict because isn’t that what perfectionism is when you really consider it? An addiction?
People who love me urge me to take a step back. And I do; I step back and try to take in “the bigger picture” but then my heart is racing, those blinders are on, and I am running a race, galloping so hard my heart could burst from my chest. I have to win. This, too, is an addiction. The worst part is, I am not competing against others. It has never been about that for me. I am competing against myself so even when I win…I lose, too.
Some people can do that to themselves. For a long time, for most of my life, I was one of them. I am no longer able to, not since my junior year, not without consequences to my health that are worse than losing. Gosh, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I winced as I typed the period but it’s the truth. There are things worse than losing.
This quarter, I dug my heels in and I fought and I pushed and I won. I made my goal on October 31st. I celebrated by going to a diner with my friend from work, Lis, where she ordered potato skins and I ordered a club sandwich. (Please, I know you are inordinately jealous of the glamourous lives we lead.) We were too exhausted to celebrate anymore than that. The next day, November 1st, another quarter began. We started from zero, without time for the natural adrenaline to leave our bodies. (Talk about a tangible lesson when it comes to what is eternal and what isn’t.) It’s insanity but it is my job. And I know, believe me I know, when I am handling stress well and when I am not.
Right now, I would give myself about a four on a scale of ten, slightly below average.
(Even now, I cannot help giving myself a grade. I mean, seriously?????)
I think I just gave myself a stomachache.
But here is what I have learned: usually stomachaches are little red flags that I need to figure out how to cope and deal with my stress and perfectionism in a healthier way. The nature of sales is not going to change. So I must change, and adapt, and learn to grow. I must learn to run these marathons in such a way that I can pick myself up on the 31st and start from zero the next day, knowing the difference between my best, and my heart bursting from my chest mid-gallop.
Listen, perfectionism is an unattainable standard and I refuse to spend my life chasing it. Trade in the word sales for grades or job or anything else I have chased in my life and this post would be applicable two years ago, six years ago, and on and on. The more I realize this, the more inclined I am to let go. Of course, as soon as I let go in one area, I am suddenly aware I am clutching onto something else. Just like any other addiction, it’s one day at a time.
To be continued,
P.S. I have been saving this post until the blog makeover is complete (we are still in progress but I can’t wait to share with you the two lovely ladies behind it all) but then I realized that it was kind of ironic that I was waiting for the blog to be perfect to write about perfection…Yeah.