Why thriving for success leads straight to depression (perfectionism kills your happiness)
Pretty sure you know the advice to find the one thing you are passionate about. Just find this one thing and all your dreams will come true. Find the perfect partner. Get the perfect job. Live the perfect live with all the perfect experiences. Make perfect choices.
Live a perfect live.
I failed living the perfect life (and you will most likely too)
I tried to do so and failed miserably. Not by failing like you might imagine, but I failed by my ever rising standards. It didn’t and often still doesn’t matter what I achieve: the voice in my mind tells me that it isn’t good enough. “You could have done better”, “your results aren’t special at all” or “if you are honest to yourself, this is worth nothing”.
And as you might guess, it is a quite exhausting attitude. And this is just the beginning of a brutal voice in my mind. Because even when I succeeded it started to compare my successes to others. And not just the average, it the bets of the best.
- Not as successful as Steve Jobs? Failure.
- Not as influential and philanthropic as Bill Gates? Failure.
I guess I don’t have to tell you that living up to those standards is close to impossible (if the voice in your head now tells you “work harder men, stop complaining – keep reading).
But besides those successes there is something even worse. Failures. If you ask, what kind of failures I am talking about… maybe you can relate:
- Made a typo? You are worthless.
- Something wrong in your presentation? You are worthless.
- A wrong assumption? You are worthless.
As you can see, when I write about failures, I write about minor things most people won’t recognize. But the voice does. The voice told me that I am worthless, that my existence is worthless and that I have to try harder.
With every failure the standard raised.
With every success the standard raised.
But one thing is for sure: the voice was never happy, never fulfilled and never satisfied.
Get the most out of now leads to depression
And the media, blogs, everything encouraged me in this thinking. When I was self-employed I helped companies to make use out of social media. I used a numbers approach and got rid of the usual “feel good social media”.
It was a success and a lot of companies really enjoyed my approach. It got me so far, that companies paid me 2.500 EUR for 6 hours plus travel and food.
I could have called it a success, but my voice was far from happy. It gave me a short period of happiness, maybe one hour only to raise the standard even more.
“If you fail you are worthless.
Constant comparison. Constant contest and battle. Don’t stand still or your life will end miserably. Do you want to end like “those other people?”
It burned me out. It nearly drove me crazy and I lost all happiness. Anxiety attacks, loss of self-esteem, anger, fear… I was, and sometimes still feel, like a wrack.
It made me sick. I got anemia and showed signs of s heavy depression.
It took me years to realize what mechanism trapped my mind:
Clinical perfectionism – your results will never be enough
Perfectionism is something positive in our society. A lot of very successful human beings couldn’t be as successful as they where if there wasn’t perfectionism they were thriving for.
Without going to deep into the history of perfectionism: we now know that there is a dark side.
In order to be called “clinical perfectionist” there need to be three things:
- You need very high standards (usually only in very narrow areas of your life, like sports, beauty or business)
- Your self-esteem is completely depending on your success (so called conditional self-esteem)
- Your standards are fix and aren’t changed even when. circumstances make it nearly impossible to succeed
When I first read this definition of clinical perfectionism it hit hard. Suddenly I realized why I was never happy, never fulfilled and always thriving for more. The voice in my head was out of control – and still questions what I am doing.
Even through this article it tries to tell me, that “someone like bill gates wouldn’t write about soft shit, go and do something smart – like building a true company”.
But since I know the term I know when the voice starts and give it a name: “hey clinical perfectionism, nice to see you again”.
It helps me to calm down. It helps me to realize that I am not a failure if I won’t become another Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.
If you now think: “idiot, you should now better!”
Recall what I wrote before: clinical perfectionism has different appearances.
- Your friend who is constantly on every party and fears to miss out a second? Could be clinical perfectionism.
- Friend of yours who is a fitness freak and never happy with her body? Could be clinical perfectionism.
- Sure this girlfriend is the perfect match? Remember this [fill on small thing] about her?
- The guy who has a thousand ideas and doesn’t follow through? Could be clinical perfectionism.
And this lead me to “find the one thing that makes you happy forever”. Social Media, self-help gurus and quite a share of society tells us that we need to pursue our dream, the one thing – or true purpose.
There is no true purpose you life for – you choose it
Sounds romantic. But, how can you know that this is truest your true passion?
This is true for:
- Relationships (is there a better match?)
- Holidays (is this the best experience?)
- Blog article (is this the best topic to start blogging again?)
- Is this the best business idea?
- Do I live the the best possible life?
- Is this the best restaurant?
- Is this the best Party?
This uncertainty leads to other problems I already mentioned: low self-esteem (due to conditional self-esteem based on success which usually aren’t occurring).
Often this low self-esteem correlates with a so called “disaster perfectionism”. If you aren’t perfect, a disaster is going to happen. And nothing will prevent it.
- If you aren’t doing a good job, nobody will respect you
- If you not switching of the oven, everything will burn down
- If you aren’t sticking to your diet, nobody will love you
- If you aren’t the best, your parents won’t love you anymore
If you aren’t writing a perfect article, they will laugh about you (and nobody will respect you ever again)
Disaster perfectionism can also be found in quite a lot of areas and it adds pressure from the outside – which will cause even more stress.
No wonder that clinical depression is closely related to perfectionism.
If you ask yourself if your could be a clinical perfectionist, I gathered some questions for you which can give you a hint:
- Do you think that there are perfect solutions for problems?
- Are there areas of your life where you have to excel in order to be “a good human”?
- Are you frustrated when you do small mistakes? Is there a voice questioning your worth as a human being?
- Do you compare yourself always to the best of the best?
- Is there a small voice in your mind like an Imperator telling you that you have to do it so and so and that there is no other choice for you?
- Do you have fix standards and a fixed picture of yourself in the future?
As you might guess, if you answer often with “yes” chances are, that clinical perfectionism is an issue.
Psychologists have a heated debate if it is good to have exceptional high standards or not, but they agree that perfectionism starts to become a problem when you combine it with conditional self-esteem.
It keeps you from living your life
Ironically clinics perfectionism could be the number one reason that you feel miserable or aren’t achieving what you are capable off.
That’s another topic I might cover in the future. If this article gets some interested views and comments I will provide some solutions I found 🙂
Do you think you suffer from clinical perfectionism? How does it show in your life? I am happy to read about it.
If my perfectionism doesn’t stop me, I will release more articles in the future. So, let me know ✌️