You can't always go it alone.

Posted 3 Jan 2023 (2023-01-03)

.. or why perfectionism will eventually bite you in the ass if you aren’t careful - which most aren’t.

As of recent I have been hitting this wall that used to be what I would consider as a large goal of mine. The goal was to be able to be good enough that you can do things alone without the need for help from anyone. Now yes this is a viable goal if you’re very very lucky - but I’m not.

Now how can this be a viable goal? Well you could be given the right set of circumstances in your youth to be able to muster up solutions to things then also be emotionally stable enough to persevere to achieve that goal. Most people, including myself, are not like that but as a child I wanted to be the perfect whiz kid that could do it all. And thus I sought out to be that person. Unfortunately perfectionism caught up with me and we are here today talking about the result of that.

So when you want to be that perfect kid that gets everything right failure is not an option. I have always been pretty decent with computers when I was younger felt like I was legendarily good at them, moreso than anyone else, until one event in high school that sticks out in memory. I was sitting a test at what was the subject I was best at, Computer Science (still not sure how it is a science), I remember doing what I thought was pretty good. Then we got the results and it turned out to be further from the truth. It absolutely killed the perfectionist ego I had built up for myself over the years. My response to this however wasn’t to try again and be better but was instead to berate myself for failing at one of my lifes biggest goals.

Eventually I got over the event itself because I dropped out of high school and now strive to live my own life but the nature of being a perfectionist lived on inside me. The way in which it did live was via wanting to do everything alone. “I can manage to do this alone, I’ll figure it out” or “I don’t need help, I’ll be fine living this way” were common tropes I would tell myself to cope with the fact of not wanting to seem vulnerable. I wanted to look like I had it all in order. I don’t and never have. Now.. where this bit me in the ass.

Now it was one of those things that bit me in the ass in many ways. The first way was when it came to depression. Trying to feel better alone wasn’t getting me anywhere and I eventually had to give in and get help. It wasn’t the kind of help it turned out I actually needed so it reconfirmed my bias of “oh well I know better”. Going back to that mindset of thinking did nothing for me and I came to the same conclusion once again; you can’t do everything by yourself. So I turned to seeking out information from great thinkers via books and that has helped me more than anything I have done alone. It lets me believe I am doing it alone but really I am getting the help I need and the best bit is the help is there 24/7, doesn’t require electricity and is relatively inexpensive too.

The second time this bit me on the ass was when I started working. Because the job was a temporary placement by the end of it you had a chance of staying on if you did good enough which is where the issue reared its ugly head once again. Trying to be that A+ employee so I could get kept on really did 2 things for me; it showed me my limits and showed me that I’m better at just doing than I tell myself I am. The way it showed me my limits was by sending me to near breaking point physically and mentally. It was a large project we were working on and it was mostly digitising paper and my drive to get it all done was probably a bit too strong and for the pace that everyone else was working at I was putting in a ridiculous amount of work for this. Eventually, via battling through the depression at the same time, it took a toll on me and I had to take some time off. When I came back I was told to slow down and that’s where I decided maybe it was time to wrangle this and get a hold of it.

So I decided to take the advice I was given (the first major turning point) and learn how to slow down. I’m still learning but it’s getting better. Realising that you don’t have to be perfect in the eyes of others just to do good work has really helped. Also asking people to do things for me helped a lot too. Being able to say “alright I’m going to do X and if you could help with Y it would be appreciated” has been something I have been making good use of and has helped reduce the self-induced stress I was putting myself under. They don’t say 2 brains are better than 1 for nothing.

As long as at the end of the day you can be proud of the work you have produced nothing else matters. Quality should be held in much higher regard than quantity and that is something I am learning to live by and maybe something other people could use in hearing. When you have something to do break it into manageable chunks and go through them one at a time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Most importantly perfection doesn’t happen overnight nor does it happen when you race so hard to put so much into something nor is it when you have to be the best at everything; perfection is when you can at the end of the day look at what you have done and be satisfied. It takes time to learn the importance of that. Every day builds on another and that’s what is important. As the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear says: if you can do 1% of something every day for a whole year you will end up 37x better by the time you’re done (not a paid shill but I recommend reading it, good book).

Anyway I wanted to say that’s where I’m at in my life now and the one thing to remember is it’s uphill from here even though the regular pitfalls might not seem like it.