A little over a month ago, I wrote a post about how I (and a lot of people I know) was tired of busting my ass for very few results and very little reward. I vowed to slow down, not worry so much about striving for perfection at work, forgiving myself for my shortcomings a little more often in my personal life, and in general make more of an effort to concentrate on what is really important to me. And it went great!
For about three and a half weeks.
Because at that point, I made a mistake at work. Not something catastrophic, not even something that wasn’t easily fixed. In fact, it was likely a mistake I would have made even if I had been working 110 hours every week. But the point was, I missed it, which was panic inducing. What else had I missed? Were there entire claims and projects out there I was neglecting, like that dream where you realize it’s the last day of school and you have a geography class you haven’t attended once?
Thus the inevitable shame spiral began. You know why I made that mistake? Because I am stupid and bad at my job and fat and slow and untalented and all of my flip flops are on the verge of destruction and my tan lines are weird and I’m a bad friend and I don’t know how to talk to customers without sounding condescending even when I’m really just trying to explain the reality of the situation and I’m not taking care of my mom the way I should and no matter what I do MY HOUSE IS JUST FUCKING COVERED IN CAT HAIR.
My friend and coworker Gretchen was the unfortunate witness to my self-bashing rampage, and she was incredibly firm in demanding that I stop putting myself down. She said it was heartbreaking to hear me talk about myself like that. She was right (she usually is). I would beat the ever loving shit out of anyone who said even one of the things about a friend of mine that I was saying about myself without a second thought.
I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. If I am, this is a terribly embarrassing post. Allowing one simple, human mistake to infect every aspect of my life sent me back on my fruitless quest for unobtainable perfection. I know it’s ridiculous. Nobody’s perfect. Hell, I know a couple of people who are pretty close to perfect, and you know what they are? Boring. So mind-numbingly, impossibly, perfectly boring it is hard to imagine they have any thoughts or feelings below the surface. They’re boring because they don’t do anything to offend, they don’t have any human foibles to make them endearing or relatable. Our imperfections are what make us interesting, they’re how we sympathize with one another, and they’re what allow us to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Because, hey, nobody’s perfect.
The truly bonkers thing is that I would never hold my friends, family, or even coworkers to the standards I think I have to meet without considering myself utterly defective, and thus it is hard to get off the perfectionism treadmill. I wish I could see myself through the same lens I use to look at the people I love. Grudges aren’t my thing and forgiveness comes easy, so turning that easygoing acceptance toward myself would be helpful.
It turns out you can’t do a complete 180 and change your entire outlook on life just because you WANT to. Even if you truly work at it and seek it desperately, it’s simply not that easy. It hasn’t all been a waste, though. I have nearly stopped worrying about getting fired. Because I do my best at work, I’m conscientious, meet expectations, and go above and beyond when it is within my abilities to do so, and if that’s not enough, then there’s nothing I can do to stave off termination. It has helped to consider what would happen if I got canned. Worse case scenario: I move back to Kansas and live with my mom for a little while. I think I would survive.
I haven’t stopped trying, and now that I’ve gone through making a silly mistake and the world miraculously didn’t stop spinning, I realize not all mistakes are catastrophes. I’ve always wanted to be laid back and take life as it comes, those are qualities I admire in others, and as a high-strung maniac, consider very nearly unattainable. I doubt I’ll ever be stoner-cool, but I think I can get to the point where leaving one or two things until the next morning doesn’t make me question my inherent worth in the circle of life.
The first six weeks weren’t an entire bust. To start taking my own advice, rather than say I failed at this task, I’ll say I learned something I can put to use as I brush myself off and try again. At first I thought I slowed down too much. Turns out, I hadn’t slowed down enough. I’m giving it another go.
How is everyone else doing? Have you been able to slow down and stop comparing yourself to others or setting goals you know you’re destined not to reach? Any debilitating shame spirals you had to overcome? Advice welcome.