“I’ve always felt like a failure inside if I’m not already a success, if that makes any sense.”
-Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
I’m a perfectionist, and the way I sometimes see it, a failure until proven otherwise.
And it’s a curse.
I’ve drafted out this blog post three or four times (and maybe more by the time you read this) – and this isn’t unusual. Hopefully, in a few hundred words I’ll have something I can be happy with, or maybe the words I’m typing now will never see the light of day.
This perfectionism makes setting goals, or making New Year’s resolutions hard. Well actually, it makes it easy, because there are about fifty things at any one time that I want to improve on.
But it makes it hard to feel like I’ve succeeded.
They say you should set yourself goals that are measurable, and because of this we can tend towards very finite and rule-ridden resolutions.
“Write 2,000 words a week”
“Do 50 push-ups a day”
“Lose 10 kilos”
“Give up dairy”
“Get a first class degree.”
But in these kind of resolutions, we can sometimes forget to make them achievable.
For some people, these kind of goals are the only way to stay motivated. Some people can stick to these goals for 365 days. Some people can stick to these goals for 300 days and fall short on the rest, but still leave the year feeling like a success. But not me. For me, these kind of goals are the sure-fire way to make me feel like a failure.
Over the last year (and probably even longer without me even realising), I’ve had occasions when I’ve set myself a goal, and achieved 80% of what I asked of myself. And these were big things I was asking of myself: huge, ambitious changes in short amounts of time, a complete fix for every problem I faced. Sometimes these goals were unspoken, but there was always the underlying knowledge that there were things I expected myself to achieve. And when I got half-way, it was hard for me to see this as a success. Sure, I’d achieved something I’d never achieved before. But I hadn’t achieved everything I wanted to. I could have done better.
It’s been hard for me to see those kind of occasions as anything but a failure. And it made me feel awful.
Measuring my success on a pass-or-fail basis wasn’t working for me. I needed to make some changes.
Admittedly, this isn’t something I figured out very quickly. I even had to have my personal tutor (and various other people) spell it out to me that I didn’t always have to aim for 100%, or even 90% – because that way I’m almost always going to fall short of my expectations, and I’m never going to appreciate the fact that, even at 65%, I did pretty damn well. Because that was still 65% I’d never achieved before.
I’ve been getting closer to finding a balance between holding onto my big ambitions, and trying not to feel like a failure when I fall short of a target. I don’t want to lower my sights, but at the same time, I don’t want to keep battering myself with these expectations that I’m not going to match up to as immediately as I would like. It’s a balance between setting more flexible goals, and not being too hard on myself if I fall short. It’s about focusing more on the positives, and what I’ve learnt from the experience, and what I’m going to do next time to get even closer to my goal. Not on wether I “succeeded or failed”. I’m getting better at it, and that’s the big thing I’m trying to keep working on this year. I’m not trying to give up procrastinating, or churn out 700 words of pure genius a day, or work sudden miraculous personal transformations overnight.
Maybe falling short of your goals feels ok to you, and I envy that, because I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.
I’m trying to be more flexible with my goals. I find that using words like “improve” or “increase” or “decrease” helps. Each year, I don’t achieve 100% of what I set out to do. But I do improve, and each year is better than the last.
Of course, I’ll be setting New Year’s resolutions this year, as I always do (and there will probably be a blog on those later). This year they will be goals that are worthwhile, but are understanding of the fact that everyone has bad days. Instead of writing 2,000 words a week, I’m going to simply “write more”. George R R Martin has missed two deadlines for The Winds of Winter, so maybe there’s a case to be made for having the freedom of doing things at your own pace. Especially when you’re meant to be doing them to please yourself.
2016 is the year to start taking notice of the little steps on the way to achieving those big ambitions. Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. If they don’t, maybe it doesn’t matter, because you’re still five, ten, maybe twenty steps further than you were when you started.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below (or at least let me know that I’m not shouting into the void).
Featured image credit: Chris Potter