26 Sep Perfectionism is the murderer of ALL good things. Here’s why
I’ve spent most of my life, consciously or unconsciously trying to be perfect – in almost every area of my life – and at the same time feeling like I was failing miserably at it. In a certain sense, perfection is a myth. Major growth, creativity and fulfilled living are only possible when you realize that you’re a human being and by default, imperfect. The real danger to being a perfectionist is the barrier you unconsciously build that blocks you from connecting with others in a meaningful way.
I was going through a rough patch in my life. We all have those right? But this was particularly difficult and I did what I always do, run from my problems by drowning myself in work. It worked for a couple of months but this time, my problems kept catching up with me. I wasn’t able to block them out, forget that they existed and just move on. I was irritated because I was generally frustrated with life itself. I was trying to keep my head above water at work, run a non-profit and I had just started a business so the pressure was definitely on. Adding to my overscheduled life was an executive position on the board of a local charity.
Something had to give and I decided that maybe I needed to reduce the time devoted to charitable work for a bit until I could piece my life together. I needed to ask the executive of the charity for a sabbatical, but I was ashamed to ask in fear that they might perceive me as shirking my responsibilities.
I went to the next meeting replaying in my mind what I say, reciting my tone and intonation. About half way through the meeting, I gathered the nerve to speak. I looked them in the eyes (or at least I tried to) and I explained that I needed a sabbatical due to personal reasons and gave a heartfelt apology for leaving the group in the middle of my term. A second didn’t pass, the questions to started, “How long do you need a break?”, “Why do you need the break?” You see the people on the Executive were strong, successful, and well, relentless go-getters like Harvey Specter and Jessica Pearson from Suits.
For me to ask for a sabbatical would mean an admission of weakness, of not being able to handle life’s pressures. My parents have always taught me the importance of keeping promises and not shunning responsibilities when they are given to you regardless of personal challenges. This would also be the first time that I would have to take a much-needed break, this was not an easy decision for me. I tossed for weeks and after discussing it with a couple of close friends, I decided to bite the bullet.
I went to the next meeting replaying in my mind what I would say, reciting my tone and intonation. About halfway through the meeting, I gathered the nerve to speak. I looked them in the eyes (or at least I tried to) and I explained that I needed a sabbatical due to personal reasons and gave a heartfelt apology for leaving the group in the middle of my term. A second didn’t pass, the questions started, “How long do you need a break?”, “Why do you need the break?”
The puzzled looks of judgment overwhelmed me. Then my worst fear was realised. One of the members of the group looked at me and said point blank said,
“In life we all go through trials but as women we must be strong and forge through.”
I forget the rest of her words but basically I was openly shamed that I was not strong enough to handle life. When she finished her monologue, I had 12 piercing eyes waiting for my reaction. I tried my best, they didn’t listen. I smiled weakly and said that I wouldn’t tender my application for a sabbatical. I went away from that meeting feeling like a loser. I had admitted to a group of my peers that I was unable to cope and I was admonished for it. What else did I expect? Empathy? Compassion?
Fast forward a couple of months, my life got progressively worse and I was forced to take the easy route. I emailed my request for a sabbatical without discussing it with anyone on the committee.
Empathy is vital if we want to connect with others.
This experience caused me to reflect on how I’ve reacted when someone may not have been able to carry through with their obligations. When did I stop to think about what the person may have been going through in their lives? Maybe they, like me, were too ashamed to give the real reason for their absence and hid behind a cloak of wishy-washy excuses. I could have lessened that person’s embarrassment by showing concern, understanding that in this life, we all need a break from the rigors of endless productivity. I could have respected their privacy while also respecting their honest self-assessment.
I realised why I was unable to relate and show empathy. I was always shielded by my cloak of perfectionism. This was the true lesson of this experience. Instead of making me a better person, my attempt at perfectionism was causing me to be unrelatable and less compassionate towards others.
Hindsight is a beautiful ability and I can see now how I had distorted thinking and very deep unresolved emotions and vulnerabilities linked to failure, perfectionism and of not being ‘worthy enough.’
In the end, it was a hard lesson, but I am glad I got the real message rather than just bitching that people were being mean to me.