I’m So Focused on Constant Success that I Feel Guilty When I Relax

I'm So Focused on Constant Success that I Feel Guilty When I Relax  | Positively Smitten

The list of things I need to do, work toward, write about, and try feels like it’s a million miles long. I find myself with notebooks, post-it notes, and emails sent to myself riddled with activities and goals to add to this never-ending “to do” list in my brain.

By the time I cross one thing off my list, there are 10 others in its place. Because of this, I find that if I’m not actively pursuing something, I’m riddled with guilt. Merely taking a few hours to watch a television show or to blog on Tumblr leaves me feeling bad. I can hear it in my head:

  • Is this really what you should be doing with your time? 
  • Aren’t there better things you could be doing right now? 
  • You’ll never get what you want out of your life if you waste your time like this. 

It’s made it so that I can never really just do one thing. I’m always trying to multi-task in the hopes that I can create more time later to do “everything else.” With all of these ideas, thoughts, and to-dos floating around in my head, I constantly feel like I’m losing my thoughts. Each notion is a loose piece of paper stuffed inside of the already overstuffed manila folder that is my brain; as I try to stuff more loose pieces of paper inside my brain, the others can’t help but topple out and float away. Yet there I am, telling myself I can have everything, that I can do it all.

At this point in my life, my desire to succeed feels like an addiction, a drug. I feel high off of the chase and even higher off of the accolades that occasionally come with it. But seconds later, I’ve fallen back down. Every success is met with an inner voice that criticizes what I’ve just done and points out all the ways in which I could have done that thing better. So, on top of everything, I am a perfectionist, where I must do everything right and, if I don’t, it’s as good as not having been done at all.

It leads me to procrastinate, it exacerbates my fear of failure, and it creates a battle within my mind where I strive for excellence but can never quite achieve it because it’ll never be perfect.

It’s exhausting. I’m tired just thinking about it, really. I’d love nothing more than to embrace the art of doing nothing… but whenever I try, there are a zillion voices in my head telling me it’s a bad idea. And the guilt? Oh, god, the guilt.

You see, my problem is two-fold:

  • I am my own worst critic and, therefore, tremendously hard on myself. I want to accomplish everything so that just for a moment I can feel like I’ve done something great. But no matter how much I accomplish, my thirst for achievements is never quenched. I yearn for more.
  • I take every other person’s success as a very clear, very personal indicator that I am somehow failing.

The latter of these two issues is something I know is bad. Someone else’s success is not an indication of my failure. That would be ludicrous. There is more than enough room for everyone to succeed. But somehow my brain translates the phrase “someone else’s success is not an indication of my failure” into “someone else’s success is absolutely an indication of my failure.” Nevermind that I feel utterly shattered to bits when I find out someone younger than me has achieved what seems like more than I have. That triggers a whole new slew of insecurities, where I’m wondering what I’ve done with my life, why I’ve wasted so much time, and why I’m such a failure.

When will I take a moment to breathe and enjoy my life where it’s at? There’s a difference between striving and obsessing. My feet are firmly rooted on Team Obsession. The pressure leaves me breathless.

In truth, I don’t quite know how to shake these feelings and I don’t even want to shake them all. I don’t want to get rid of my lists, which bring me comfort and keep me motivated. I don’t want to lose my motivation (although I could do without the crippling fear of failure and imperfection).

But I do want to remind myself of these three things:

Everybody loses. Everybody fails. You can’t have success without failure; you can’t have wins without losses. Don’t be afraid to lose or to fail. Embrace it. Maybe be sad about it; maybe even cry a little. Then pick yourself up and try again. Fail until failing doesn’t hurt quite so bad. 

It’s okay to be imperfect. There is no such thing as “perfection.” As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, it’s not exactly something I easily accept. But it’s true. There is beauty in imperfect and, if nothing else, being okay with things being a little less-than-perfect. There’s a quote by Audre Lorde I love, which says, “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” (Another wise woman named Beyoncé shared the sentiment when she said, “Perfection is so… ugh.”) 

Breathe. There’s probably a reason you feel like you’re being crushed under the weight of the world. So take a break. Relax. Do nothing.

I know I won’t magically stop putting constant pressure on myself — that’s unrealistic. But maybe these three things can help me — and people like me — pause and savor things, even if it’s just for a moment.


2 responses to “I’m So Focused on Constant Success that I Feel Guilty When I Relax

  1. It’s comforting to know someone else feels the same way about this as I do…like, literally word for word!

    The reason I’m trying to get good at doing nothing is to get a handle on the pressure to continuously achieve. The thing is, it’s wonderful to have drive and dreams and to know that we can and will accomplish them (because so many people don’t believe in themselves or know where to start). But being this way makes the process of achieving our dreams/goals unbearable when we feel guilty during those moments where we need a break or need to change course a little bit. Anyway, well said!


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