Why you need to let go of your need to always win.
Most of my life I’ve battled somewhat of a perfectionist complex. The thought of doing something that presented the chance failure… it just wasn’t going to cut it.
With the exception of my home, everywhere I turned reminded me how much I had failed to prove. In academics, in athletics, in the social realm. If you weren’t shining the brightest then life seemed a little less tangible.
While I’d like to say that those kinds of pressures faded as I got older, the reality is, they only compounded. At nearly every turn there were higher achievements to be had, more responsibilities to shoulder and a ravenous societal dictate to be the best.
That is of course if I wanted to really “matter”…
Now, as a Christian, I knew that this mindset was horribly flawed. Even those who don’t subscribe to my ideals would have a hard time arguing the benefits of placing their self-worth on the back of their successes and failures. Standing firm on ground that’s constantly shifting is rarely a wise decision.
Unfortunately, my best efforts weren’t as effective as I’d hoped.
There I was, trying to live within the halls of supremacy when every fiber of my being was telling me that it was just a fallacy. Despite all of my hard work, I was never going to get past my own inherent limitations.
It was during this time that I was struck with a moment of clarity. It came during a presentation that was being delivered by an author named Marcus Buckingham. Although the name meant nothing to me at the time, I sat there as he delivered one of the most invigorating speeches that I had ever heard. Amidst all of the research and eloquent conviction, I was reminded that there were a few things that I could do exceptionally well. Conversely, there were also some things that I would never do well, regardless of my effort. In essence, my only real mandate was to apply myself.
Naturally, this spoke to me. And it was immediately applicable to everyone that I knew. It also provided a powerful reminder about the nature of self-worth. It isn’t derived from a list of outcomes, but more from the source of our motivations. It is drawn from the innate, a place of clarity and distinction.
And here’s the kicker; it’s not that complicated.
All we really need to do, at least initially, is understand that we are rarely going to be the best at everything. With the exception of an elite few, there are always going to be people out there that are more capable than we are. Once we’ve accepted that, we can move on and continue to grow. With the fear of failing mitigated, you are actually free to become better. But this is where many of us get stuck. The idea of putting ourselves in a position where we might fall short is frightening. It means that we’ve failed and there’s no longer any hope for perfection. As ridiculous as this sounds, there are countless people out there that miss a chance to be exceptional because failure isn’t an option.
Consider a practical perspective. Think about the last time that you declined participation in something because you feared being inadequate. Maybe your fear was appropriate, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it just blinded you to something could have turned out to be very fulfilling. Personally, some of my most exceptional characteristics were developed during my participation in something that scared me to death. If my perfectionism had won, these traits might not have ever surfaced.
Armed with an acceptance of possible failure, you can then begin putting some serious energy towards discovering the areas where you really excel.
I have one word of caution however. Do not confuse perfection with excellence. What I’m urging you to do is to employ excellence in place of unachievable expectations. I’m not advocating that you resign yourself to half-hearted efforts or inadequate resolve. Accepting mediocrity is only wrong if you get there by way of laziness and self-defeat.
What I am advocating is this:
- Take a deep breath
- Know who you are and what makes you tick
- Expect the possibility of failure and continue on
- Be convinced that you can be exceptional at something
- Challenge yourself to grow in your areas of strength
- Fight relentlessly against the urge to think of yourself as the sum of your achievements
- Employ excellence in place of perfectionism
And keep doing these things… even while the voices around you tell you otherwise.