Anxiety and a sense of doom dominate me when I begin most tasks. It could be cleaning the house or starting a new job; my fear of failure kicks in and I begin to panic that I won’t do it well enough, won’t complete it, might let someone down and quite simply, won’t be the best. I suffer these debilitating symptoms of self-sabotage because I am my harshest critic.
When I was in my teens, I was a cocky little shit. I was sassy, confident and saw myself as a bit of an undiscovered genius. I even bought myself a “best at everything” mug. Being a jack of all trades had its merits; I was able to fluke exams, excel at new hobbies and access a variety of employment industries. However, as I entered my twenties, I started to realise that I wasn’t the “best at everything” and maybe I was nothing special at all. At least by my standards.
I was rather good at a lot of stuff, but because of my poor focus, limited attention span and itchy feet, I had never managed to get best at anything. I was a giver-upper. I lacked self-discipline. If I didn’t think I could be the best at something, I didn’t want to try at all. And anything I was good at soon bored me and I moved on to the next fad.
My all-or-nothing mentality meant I would throw myself into a new venture so enthusiastically it cost me more than I couldn’t afford physically, emotionally, in time, energy and money. As soon as something felt uncomfortable or like too much hard work, I would become overwhelmed, hide away, wallow in self-pity and skulk amid a mild depression. Then I would quit.
Now I flounder about, still filled with dread that I am not living up to my mother’s expectations; all the work she put in to ensure I was educated, secure, had access to opportunities – lost. I have two beautiful children, a gorgeous, supportive partner of 10 years, a house, car and three cats, but cannot shake the sense of shame that I have done nothing with my life. It’s a feeling of uselessness; wasted potential.
I didn’t establish a career before I had children, but I didn’t want to have them too late either, so I made huge sacrifices to be a mother. As many of us do. But almost five years later, I find myself starting from scratch. Although brimming with knowledge and life experience, and enthusiasm to contribute my Swiss penknife of skills, I am as good as on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder.
There is so much pressure on women to be everything, but if I am a “good” mother, invest in my family’s health and wellbeing by cooking from scratch three times a day and exercising, I barely have time to check my emails and Facebook feed, let alone use Twitter and have a successful freelance career.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel once I knew the older child was going off to school and the younger one was starting pre-school, but as usual my plans were extreme and unrealistic. I became a nervous a wreck just at the thought of getting on with life, already certain that I would fail because there is just not enough time in the day to be: politician; blogger; singer/songwriter; local activist; mother; lover; friend; home cook; perfect housewife; interior designer; social media genius; entrepreneur; fitness enthusiast; and yogi.
How do people do it? If I have a successful week creatively and work out regularly, my house is a mess and the washing up won’t get done. If I nail the housework, plough through chores and homeowner admin, I’m lucky if I get time for a cup of tea and reach the school gates on time.
Everyone tells me I take on too much, not to be hard on myself, to prioritise, but all of these things are important to me. They all need to be done. And I want them done well. Whispers of my to-do lists within to-do lists play on repeat like, “Secure publishing deal, get rich, have time to complete me…”. I have slowly given up on perfectionism as I’ve learned it’s more important that something gets done, than not done at all.
In an attempt to justify my serial procrastination, I’ve almost accepted that sometimes it’s OK to just do nothing – stuff can wait, my sanity cannot. But my guilt dictates that I at least multitask my “nothing” with checking emails, social media, online food shopping and eBay while boxset bingeing. I have simultaneously come to the painful realisation that unless you are very rich, well connected or just plain lucky, the only route to success is hard work. The magic is in finding the perfect balance.
The world isn’t what it used to be. The Internet has changed everything for the music industry, writers and world politics. So we have to be resilient, overcome challenges by adapting to new trends; hoping we can keep up and keep our heads up. At least not stick them in the sand.
So I have to let go of fear, learn when to say “no”, but more importantly when to say “YES”! I will take risks, seize opportunities and work my wobbly backside off, because I want a better future for my children than a Trump world promises – and the only person that can make that happen is me.
Do you suffer from perfectionism? Can you relate to this? How do you deal with negative feelings of underachievement and self-loathing? How do you measure success?