I Lost My Mind When I Got an A-

When I got out of the Navy, I went back to college.  I went to college right out of high school, but I was more interested in the experience (ahem, the party) vs going to class so I didn’t do so great.

This time I was on a mission to prove how smart I was. My goal was a 4.0. I considered anything less a failure.

It was all going swimmingly until I had to take Philosophy. I had already aced all my computer science and math courses, so I figured another A was in the bag. Apparently my professor didn’t appreciate my sense of pragmatism that I always brought to my essays and I ended up with an A-. 

I distinctly remember calling my husband in tears. I was distraught and can recall how I felt like such a failure because I no longer had a 4.0 GPA. He couldn’t understand what in the heck was happening and why I was upset.

I met with the professor and asked for extra credit to bring my grade back to an A. He looked at me like I had two heads and told me it would “make my transcript look more credible”.

I look back on this now and can see how my fear of being judged “not enough” drove me to that reaction. I did not see how an A- was good enough even though I held many other roles at the time: wife, mother, and daughter.

Perfection is a story we make up, my friends. Everyone’s interpretation is different so therefore it is a thought. The good news is that thoughts can be altered and replaced.

You might be thinking, Holly, I have a very high standard for myself.  I get that, but if you have feelings of urgency, judgment about your self worth, or procrastinate because something is not perfect, that’s not what you are doing. 

There is a difference between doing the best you can and searching for perfection.

Perfection is a pressure cooker and is chased after as a way to not be judged by others or to not disappoint others. Operating from a sense of urgency or pressure does not end up with optimal results. It ends in less satisfaction and not being able to relax or have fun. It takes up a lot of mental energy because you are always either judging yourself or figuring out how to achieve some unrealistic expectation.

If you can answer yes to any of the following, you are displaying perfectionistic programming:

  1. I have an all or nothing mindset; I either do it perfect or not at all
  2. I have a hard time completing projects because my standards haven’t been met
  3. I have no sense of humor when doing something I’m not good at
  4. I am preoccupied with details, rules and schedules
  5. I don’t like to delegate because I like it done my way
  6. I focus on what’s wrong all the time
  7. I think that failure is something to be avoided at all costs
  8. I over-argue that my way is the right or only way
  9. I think that small things are not enough

Why do we do this? Somewhere in our past, we associated perfection with love and acceptance. This habit equation was programmed into our brain. It became a belief; i.e. our default programming.

You can use this 3 step process to upgrade your default programming.

  1. Become aware. Catch yourself when you are expecting perfection from yourself or others.
  2. Interrupt. Start asking yourself questions like “is this helpful?” or “where did I learn this?”.
  3. Redirect. Talk yourself down off the perfection train with thoughts like “there’s no such thing as perfect” or “good enough is just fine”.

No one is perfect, my friends. Shooting for perfection puts you under an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure.  Decide right now that you will work on this. I guarantee you will start to let go of the pressure you are feeling and open yourself up to more possibilities.

PS. I help people stop overworking. I went from 80 hours a week to 30. I can help you do it too. It’s just a matter of reprogramming some inefficient work habits. Get to know me here.