Work Harder !
Do More !
Hustle your ass off !
We live in a culture that has glorified busy and put a halo around the idea that if we all just work harder, we’ll reach this longed for titled called “Perfection“.
Personal Growth is riddled with perfection seekers.
Urging you to do more in less time.
To tighten those abs.
To take leaps into 58 degree plunge pools every day to reach “peak performance” (Tony Robbins actually does this).
To increase your productivity.
To do. Do. Do.
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Success is a word that is individually defined. For some, it means being a best-selling author. For others it means having more time to work on their goals and aspirations. For others, it means making more money. For others it means the freedom to travel the world.
Yet somewhere along the line, we’ve been sold a pre-packaged version of success that looks something like the pages of a magazine. Perfect toned and tanned bodies. 8 figure businesses. Never a blemish or a bad day to be found anywhere. Baking perfect cupcakes for the kids bake sale. Only sleeping 5 hours a night. Always having a perfect blow out, chip-free nails, and a smile plastered across your face even though you barely have time to eat.
The culture that teaches us that we must do more, be more, and be more perfect is leaving us anxious, depressed, and sick.
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How Perfectionism Ends Up Making You Feel Unworthy
When I first started as an entrepreneur, I naively bought into the rhetoric of what I call the “hustle coaches“.
They taught that if you hustle your ass off, work 16 hours a day, that you too would become a 7 figure millionaire in under a year. At their core, they all promised the same thing – wild success, popularity, and finally being good enough if you just sacrificed your pussy-assed belief that you should be entitled to have a life.
Workaholics were praised and those who prioritized family or happiness “just didn’t want it bad enough”.
I literally remember one of these coaches bragging that her hobby was working, that she only has time for one friend because she’s “so focused on her business” and that if you’re not as focused as she was that something was wrong with you.
I worked 80 hour weeks! for the first year of my coaching business, whilst also carrying a second job on top.
I wondered why I wasn’t as successful as all of these promises that had been made by the hustle coach I hired.
“You need to quit your job and work more on your business” I was told.
This coach was urging me to work more and would brag to her group about how much I would get done. What a “superstar” I was. I would find out years later that she would actually guilt her other clients because “Look how much Ashlee gets done”.
I had bought into it. For over a year I worked myself stupid trying to reach that shiny trophy of “success” that I was being sold where “finally I’d be happy and able to relax”.
I was striving for likes, follows, comments. I would rig my posts based on what would get more approval from my audience so that I could “reach more people”. I was changing my messaging to fit in with what people reacted to. Rigging myself to try to get more people to like me.
And it was killing me inside. I almost burned out and had many mini-breakdowns from stress and from feeling like something must be wrong with me. A badass ex-psychologist who WASN’T an overnight success? What was I doing wrong?
“There must be something wrong with me” I would reason in the small moments I’d stop to take a breath.
The same sentiments are echoed from the woman who feels unworthy of love because of her body isn’t a size 2. Or the woman who feels that she’s not a good enough parent because she has to buy the bake sale goods at the store because she doesn’t have time to bake. Or the woman who fears that she’s not good at inspiring people because sometimes she cries herself to sleep because it’s all too much. Or the woman who beats herself up for another failed relationship that didn’t work out, even though there were clear red flags about her lover from the start.
These people all look at themselves and figure they’re the problem. That something is wrong with them.
“What’s wrong with me?”
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How Perfectionism Works And Stifles Creativity
This is how perfectionism works. The high achieving woman never looks to her environment to find what’s not working. Instead, she always blames herself. She always figures she just didn’t “try hard enough”. Whether it was a business, raising her children, or salvaging a relationship. She figures that if she just would have been better she could have saved the day.
Man, that superhero cape can get heavy for the woman who feels she has to do it all and be it all. Who has to be the Barbie doll perfect picture boss babe parenting lover goddess who never has a hair out of place (geez, that exhausts me just typing that).
Becuase the truth is that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just aren’t going to work out the way you planned. And the striving for perfection and the internalized self-blame that happens when things don’t go according to plan end up sabotaging your ability to persist despite failure.
You see, persistence resides in the ability to make mistakes. In the ability to mess it all up and not have to be perfect.
- When you learn to walk, you fall on your butt. And that’s okay, you just get back up again and keep on trucking.
- When you learn a musical instrument, you play plenty of sour notes. But you keep practicing and you get better.
- When you first have sex you were probably pretty terrible at it, but with more practice came the love making you’d always read about.
- When you first do public speaking you trip over your words and might even stand there staring blankly at the audience. But with time and practice, you can speak eloquently and by the seat of your pants.
Screwing things up is part of learning. So if you’re never allowing yourself to fail, you’re never allowing yourself to truly expand and to learn.
This is part of the problem that’s inherent in social media. People striving for the likes and comments, like I did when I worked for the hustle coach (whoa – Freudian slip – when I hired the hustle coach).
What happens is that your self-esteem gets wrapped up in how much approval and acknowledgment you get.
So you drive yourself to keep getting approval and acknowledgment – which essentially means you never allow yourself the glorious luxury of screwing up and being unpopular and messy.
This is why so much stuff on social media and in the personal development field (and in MANY fields) is so yawn-worthy and derivative.
Everyone is striving for this acknowledgment and is narrowing their focus more and more to what will bring them more approval. Stopping themselves from going out on the limb and thinking radical ideas. Stopping themselves from possibly embarrassing themselves and being ridiculous. Stopping themselves from creating great art and putting forth revolutionary concepts that blow the lid off of the lives of others.
In an attempt to be seen as “flawless” and conform to the ideas of “success” that they see around them they’re trading the true transformational value of their voice and giving into the idea that they can never make a mistake “or they’re ruined”. The same happens for great designers. Great writers. Great painters. Great thinkers. Great comedians. Great speakers.
Anyone who wishes to be great at anything must risk failing spectacularly at that thing.
Otherwise, you’re just signing up for a popularity contest and not for a truly creative endeavor that engages your genius.
If you want to be perfect. You might as well sign up now for being tepid. Because tepid is the only temperature everyone can agree on.
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Where Perfectionism Comes From
Perfectionism usually comes from some kind of dysfunctional upbringing. A dysfunctional upbringing often involves dysfunctional parenting.
- Parents who are narcissistic or demanding.
- Parents who are overly harsh, critical, and authoritarian.
- Parents that abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Parents who are emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive to the child or to others.
- Parents who have uncontrolled issues with rage.
- Parents with other addictions like gambling or sex or attention.
- Parents who have their own emotional issues like struggling with divorce, fighting all the time, or untreated depression or anxiety.
- Or even parents who are absent because they’re working all the time.
Labeling parenting as dysfunctional isn’t about demonizing a parent. It’s about understanding the context from which these patterns come from in you.
Being raised in a dysfunctional home can put the constant pall of “be perfect or you’re nothing” over your head. Especially for those raised in overly critical homes or with narcissistic parents. The child feels the need to become the perfect example of what their parent wants them to be.
In other homes, like where a parent has an active addiction, emotional issues, or works all the time the child strives to be perfect because by “not causing trouble” the child lowers the stress level of the household and helps to maintain the very fragile equilibrium that could easily snap at any time (more on this in a future post).
I understand this pattern intimately. When I was growing up there was narcissism and alcoholism in my family. I grew up to believe that I had to be EXCELLENT or else I was crap. I remember being screamed at as a child because I came home with B’s. Yes, I was gifted and A’s should have been easy. But I also had undiagnosed ADHD and was bullied pretty harshly. Yet, instead of questioning the environment I was in, I was always told it was my fault. That I was lazy and just didn’t work hard enough.
I have another client who had parents who fought all the time. So she would attempt to bring home perfect grades, and be in every single club in school so that she could keep the peace at home. She knew that if she were to come home with anything less than perfection shit would really hit the fan. She didn’t want to do anything to fan the flames of the already incendiary situation at home. So instead she tried her hardest to be as good as possible and stay under the radar.
When you grow up with these kinds of conditions you believe that your worth is connected to how much you can keep those around you happy. You learn that the more you enroll in being a “good girl” and towing the line – the happier those people are. So you work hard to keep them happy by striving for higher and higher forms of perfection. By trying to gain approval when what you really desire is unconditional love.
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Perfectionism In The Social Media Age
A recent study came out that shows that Millennials actually have higher levels of perfectionism than any other generation.
Body dysmorphia and eating disorders have risen by almost 30% since the advent of social media.
Young people are feeling more anxious and depressed than ever before. And they feel the constant need to compare themselves socially to others.
They are literally living their lives in a state of constant comparison to others. Because this is the generation that has been brought up with social media their entire lives.
It turns out that those constantly shiny personas that people display on social media. Those perfect pictures and expertly cultivated posts. They end up making a lot of people feel like crap about themselves. In the same way as perfection in advertising and in women’s magazines has hurt girl’s self-esteem.
One of the saddest outcomes of this social media age is that other people are then seen as a type of vending machine you go to get your fix of acknowledgment and approval. Instead of developing real and abiding intimacy with others (which necessitates being vulnerable and willing to make mistakes) relationships are seen as places to get your next fix.
And what’s scary is that this is essentially the definition of narcissism. Using people this way instead of developing true intimacy. Seeing other people as just someone who likes or approves of you rather than as a living breathing human with significance and meaning all of their own.
This striving to gain approval from those around you is one of the ways that social media drives perfectionism. You post something on Facebook only to examine whether or not enough people are liking and commenting on the post. Evaluating yourself and your potential for success by how well received this post is. No one likes the post? Just tear it down and post another. Screw authenticity or self-expression. The goal becomes gaining recognition and approval.
Your identity and self-perception become driven by the way in which you garner praise from others. “Success” is measured in how well received you are. How many pats on the head you get. How much more money and status and stuff you have compared to other people.
Perfectionism rolls into materialism. Into competition. Into a sense that there’s never enough.
That you’re never enough.
And so you drive yourself to be more in line with what other people desire, rather than what you desire.
You become dissociated from the truth of who you are and become a warped version of who other people think you should be to garner that attention and approval
In a recent episode of the Dystopian sci-fi show Black Mirror, we had a glimpse of this world where your value is derived from the perception of others. From the approval and likes that other people give you. The tepidness of the society is palpable in this clip (I highly suggest watching the whole episode. But warning – you will be disturbed!).
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Where Is The Art?
Where is the humanness left in a society that uses the metric of likes to determine the success of a life?
Great art is not made by conforming to standards that bring us all closer and closer to being the same person. More alike, more approved of, more rubber stamped “successful” the duller and khaki we become. The less vibrant your life is because it becomes about what they want, not about what you want. Not about what makes you light up and feel really alive.
So the only way to continue forward is to either shed the icy grasp of perfectionism in your life.
Or you can continue to allow it to control you and stay in denial about who you really are.
To keep your art tucked away safely in the closet where it doesn’t have to face possible rejection.
To never ever confront the possibility of failure or messiness because you never risk trying something truly radical and new.
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What To Do About It
So then what to do about all of this “work harder and you’ll be more successful” stuff? This “your value relies on other people’s approval” stuff?
Evaluate your life based on your own metric.
Do you love working harder? Are you yearning to work harder? Are you being so lazy that even your cat knows that you could work harder? Then maybe that ethos is right in line with what needs to be done in your life. Maybe that’s what would be a great fit for you. Not because it’s how you gain approval from others. But because it’s the right fit for you.
But if you’re just striving to work harder, or for more perfection because of some slick marketing that keeps telling you that you’re not making enough money, you’re not thin enough, you’re not spiritually evolved enough, you’re not enough then time to chuck that crap out and allow yourself to be enough right here and now.
Establish what success means to you.
Is success being radical? Free? Is it gaining approval of others? Is it about money? Making a difference? Raising a kickass family?
No one can define what success means to you. That’s your job. Because as long as you let them determine what success means, you’re giving them the power to determine whether or not you’re successful.
When you stop waiting to be good enough and you acknowledge that you are worthy NOW. When you stop waiting until you’ve lost that 10 pounds, made that next 100 grand, or found the love of your life to feel like you can finally relax and love yourself and your life. When you look at yourself in the mirror and you can actually say “hey! I really like you!” without sarcasm and without a “but, you really could use an eyebrow wax” or whatever flaw you happen to fixate on.
Love yourself as you are. You are marvelous.
Yes, it’s important to feel all the discomfort that comes with not being where you want to be. Acknowledging that maybe your back aches because you haven’t worked on strengthening it. That maybe you would have an easier time being happy if you worked on releasing that inner critic. Or that you have a tendency to close down when it comes to conflict and that this is ruining your intimate relationships. Knowing all of that really can help you shift things.
But there’s a difference between knowing that something needs to change, and making it a contingency on which you gain being worthy of happiness or love.
I have long taught something I call the Puppy Metaphor. It was something I invented when I was a doctoral intern working with clients in my final year finishing up my PhD in psychology.
The Puppy Metaphor
Consider for a moment that you receive two puppies. One of these puppies you immediately love and bond with. The other puppy you’re a little “meh” about and kind of find annoying. Both puppies are chewing up the furniture and peeing on the rug. But one makes you respond with “awe, how cute!”. The other you scream and yell and and chastise for being a “bad dog”. Which of those puppies do you think you’re going to put more love and attention into making into the best dang dog that ever existed? Which puppy is going to get the long walks, and the good expensive food, and the expensive trainer?
Yup, the puppy you already loved. Shitty behavior and all.
Growth happens a lot easier from self-acceptance, and dare I say self-love, than from self-denigration and criticism any day of the week.
Drop the attitude that you have to be perfect to be worthy. That you have to be perfect to do amazing things in this world.
You woke up worthy today and every day. You don’t have to earn it.
And once you believe that – the magical shiny happy wah wah in your life starts to unfold like you wouldn’t believe.