Friday, 16 December 2016

Perfectionism - A Love-Hate Relationship

Perfection. It's been a love-hate relationship. One one hand, it brings achievements, hard work, drive & success. On the other hand, it can inhibit those very things.

In my younger years, I used to think settling for nothing less of perfection was the right way to be. And as a child/teenager it probably served me in ways that it would not in my life now. I valued myself on my achievements & was recognized for it. And with the combinations of an extensive range of natural ability and this strong drive to be my best,  I was able to excel at most things I took on - academics, sport, leadership, art, social relationships. I focused on those areas in which I shone & created my own sweet comfort zone in which I received the recognition (from my self & from others) that fed me.

At times, however this would create a frustration that I could not control (or perhaps chose not to because I thought that it served me). my attitude would create friction with my teammates & detriment to my confidence. Because of my definition of self-value, I would come up short of these standards I had set, taking a huge hit to my confidence. When it came to achieving at higher levels, this led to inconsistencies & became a big frustration not knowing why I was unable to maintain that status quo.

Upon entering university, life started to throw me a lot more junk & so many more variables come into play.  Self-expectations expanded with these variable & I found this transition to be one of the mentally toughest times of my life. I held onto those achievements of my past & labels that defined me, but could not hold onto the standard that I held myself up to. I went from being a hometown all star to struggling to make the bench on the varsity hockey team. My grade average fell 30% & I failed my first two post-secondary tests, the first time I had ever failed anything. For the first time ever, I  lost my direction in life, & all the possibilities overwhelmed me. I no longer knew how to define myself, other than my failures & fell into a pretty big depression. I felt a disconnect from most people in my circle & was unable to ask for help, because I had always been able to keep my shit together, and then some.

I don't think this experience, however, was for nothing. In fact I think we all need to go through something similar to foster personal growth.  The short-sightedness of my attitude toward perfectionism became apparent. I started to realize the limits of basing my self-value on my outer achievements & how unstable that can be. Relationships with loved ones became so much more significant in my sense of being. My actions & intentions played a much bigger role in the core of who I am. Happiness, self-fulfillment moved up on my radar & my goals shifted. I felt a bigger purpose was at hand & I had an obligation to fill it (talk about raising the stakes).

It has been an ongoing struggle to manage my expectations but as I get older I begin to understand it more & more & how it plays into the bigger picture. I recognize the importance of balancing a perfectionist mentality in achieving success - the potential of striving to perfection, but the limits of it as well. Setting expectations to an unachievable level inhibits performance, preventing me from reaching goals. Yet setting them too high can lead to disappointment & fear of failure. On the other hand, giving up on your standard (too low) can be really unproductive & unfulfilling.

For myself the challenges I face involve letting go of those expectations when it doesn't really matter. Living up to a high standard for things my heart truly desires, those things that contribute to the person I want to be, to my personal goals, & to my relationships. But (here's where it can get tricky) recognizing expectations that are too high & how they are inhibiting my motivation, getting in my way. Overcoming that fear of failure. Allowing myself to fail. Picking & choosing to focus on the things that matter most. Letting go of the all-or-nothing attitude & acceptation that moderation is perfectly fine (or at least OK) at times, and even required in order to fulfill other expectations.

I find this doesn't only play into effect on myself but also the people in my life. I see in myself the high standards to which I hold for my children. I do think that for my kids, setting the bar high is not a bad thing, it teaches discipline & can help them to excel. But, as with myself, there is a fine line between teaching them to push themselves toward their goals & setting them up for disappointment, the challenge is to find that line & draw it. With experience & intuition I do feel most of the time I am able to recognize when I have lifted the bar to high & when to let it go. Realizing to let go when it really doesn't matter that much always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Recognizing this in my relationship with my spouse has been a bit more of a challenge, but at the same time brought huge perspective shift. Although I think I knew it on a subliminal level, it only recently occurred to me the impossible expectations to which I have held my husband as well & how it had been frustrating me for years. Bringing this awareness to the surface (complimentary to various other self-revelations brought to surface in the last couple weeks) I began to understand how it fit in with the puzzle of who I am, my needs & was able to let go of that ideal that I had create & which no one person could possibly fulfill. This realization was, in a way, very freeing & I was finally able to let go of this unrealistic ideal I had manifested. I found focus on the many things that I appreciate about him, about our relationship & the areas in which it serves me in my search toward self-fullfilment. It has allowed me to accept his gestures of affection for what they are and not what they aren't. To focus on our areas of compatibility in a clear light. To be more present. And to really appreciate what we are without the frustrations of what we are not.

Although I don't think this ever becomes black and white, but recognizing the potential & the limits of a certain approach or attitude, such as perfectionism, also the importance of balance between these two facets allows us to move forward in self-improvement, in our relationships & in our goals in life. I know for me it has.

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