Finding Freedom from Failure
As I curled into fetal position on the kitchen floor and howled away all hope, I was not just afraid of failure. I felt I was a failure.
That was eight years ago. I was fifty.
To others, I appeared successful. I held a leadership position with a global organization, earned a six-figure salary, and traveled between continents in business-class luxury. A practically perfect life. But those outer trappings masked how I mentally beat myself up over my imperfections.
You wouldn’t have known if you weren’t one of my besties or a close family member. I acted with my typical achievement-oriented drive. I smiled, joked, and laughed with co-workers until I retreated to my office and sobbed in solitude. I delivered excellent organizational results but collapsed in overwhelm in my disorganized home. In the evenings, my many procrastinated personal goals plagued me. Most of all, shame about my motherhood mistakes smothered me.
I’m not so sure when my fixation on flawlessness started, but it fast-tracked in junior high. I remember wanting to earn all A’s starting at age twelve. In six years, I earned mostly A’s with a few B’s and one irritating C. My freshman year in college, I lost my academic scholarship because I had only a B+ average. It wasn’t good enough.
I wasn’t good enough.
Maybe you’ve felt this way, too.
If so, you may be part of a growing group of perfectionists. Thomas Curran (University of Bath) and Andrew Hill (York St. John University) conducted a meta-analysis of perfectionism assessments from the last three decades.
Rates rose up to 32 percent for the 41,641 college students tested.
Let’s read how researchers describe perfectionism. Paul Hewitt, a Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and his colleagues divide pursuit of perfection into three categories:
1. Set extremely high expectations or standards for yourself
2. Believe others hold you to extremely high expectations or standards
3. Demand extremely high expectations or standards from others
I was proud to fall into the first two categories. My staff probably would have pegged me in the third, too. A perfection trifecta and formula for depression.
Pennsylvania State University Professor, Robert Slaney, and his colleagues studied the difference between personal expectations and perceived achievement. They created a measurement tool, The Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APSR). You can take a look at the long version here.
The APSR short form asks the level of agreement or disagreement with eight statements on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). I’ve divided the APSR statements into two types: personal expectations and personal belief compared to expectations.
I have high expectations for myself
I set very high standards for myself
I have a strong need to strive for excellence
I expect the best from myself
Those don’t sound so unreasonable, do they?
Personal belief compared to expectations:
Doing my best never seems to be enough
I often feel disappointment after completing a task because I know I could have done better
My performance rarely measures up to my standards
I am hardly ever satisfied with my performance
Ouch. Those beliefs may have been hard to read.
Psychologists also proposed the idea of positive and negative perfectionism.
Positive perfectionism involves setting high but realistic expectations or standards fueled by a sense of satisfaction and pride. However, negative perfectionism involves setting high but unrealistic expectations or standards driven by a fear of failure or letting others down.
The Slaney et al. model allows for the positive versus negative idea. According to their research, adverse effects are not due to the actual expectations alone but come in combination with the gap between your reality and your ideal.
That night when I howled on my kitchen floor, I would have rated all eight statements as strongly agree and judged my gap to be an endless chasm. In that moment, my negative perfectionist told me doing my best would never, ever be enough. I should give up.
Somehow, I dragged myself off the floor. The next morning, I rose slightly less miserable. My positive perfectionist set a goal to find a way to heal. That took three years.
I went from never enough to enoughness, from being a failure to having a failure, and from feeling flawed to forgiving my flaws.
Finally, I found freedom through lasting self-love.
Maybe you’d like to do the same.
If so, I invite you to download my free e-book, 3 Keys to Enoughness: A 30-Day Guide to Accelerate Effortless Joy to get you started.
This guide walks you step-by-step through 9 proven practices over 30 days to supercharge your path to feeling enough.
You’ll discover techniques on how to:
1. Create lasting joy
2. Channel positive fear
3. Calm your inner critic
Download 3 Keys to Enoughness now, and embrace your true, loving self.