January 17, 2018

Stress, Tears & Perfectionism: Confessions of an Ambitious Millennial.

As a highly ambitious millennial, I was eager for external validation in my early twenties.

I felt extremely “honored” to be doing part-time work for what were considered “prestigious” organizations, or to take part in “opportunities of a lifetime.”

Being good wasn’t good enough. Fumbling wasn’t acceptable. I had to be the best. Perfection was the only option for me.

I was desperate to leave a good (read: impeccable) impression.

This determination led me to say “yes” to many things that didn’t serve me, such as long hours, unpaid work, projects that were outside of my responsibility, and calls in the middle of the night.

I’d feel this jolt of adrenaline whenever I worked harder, or longer, or more. I wanted to offer a fresh look on things, and I needed to show others that I could handle it all.

I couldn’t relax, because I had to prove myself.

I needed to prove my worth, my value, my right to exist in this space.

For each deliverable I took part in, I’d micro-check every single tiny detail. I was frantic over things that were beyond my control. I felt like a failure every time I was asked to revise my work.

And in spite of the mountain of stress I was carrying, I kept taking on more and more because I wanted to make myself indispensable.

One day around lunch time, I was feeling suffocated by the extreme pressure I’d put myself under.

Others would leave the office at that time, while I would usually stay later and then go for just a quick bite at about 2:00. But on this particular day, I couldn’t keep my smile bright and my head high anymore. I let my whole body slump down, and started taking deep, heavy breaths.

Tears were welling up in my eyes, and I didn’t notice as someone came in. “Caught off guard” would be an understatement—I was shocked. I immediately tried covering it up, saying that I was testing a new wellness trend I’d been reading up on. Then it all spilled out.

The lady who had walked in was so kind, and she just let me talk. I told her everything. I just laid it all out there: my stress, and my ambition, and how I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. Then she said a single sentence that changed my whole perspective.

“You know…no mistake that you make will start a war.”

She continued: “I know you’re smart and highly capable. But you don’t need to always be right and perfect. Everyone here likes you. You charm people. You light up the room. You make people happy. You don’t need to prove anything. You’re already the best you.”

I was stunned.

I didn’t know how to respond. I hadn’t known that others saw me that way. I was so anxious about making an impression that I didn’t see how appreciative others were of my presence.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to reply. As I dealt with this high speed train of thought running through my head, the woman left without waiting for an answer.

Time stood still for me. It was about 10 minutes or so before I actually moved from where I was.

Then more tears came.

I didn’t wipe them away. I didn’t stop them from ruining my makeup. I let it all out as quietly as I could. I gulped water as the tears just kept falling.

After some time, I felt the weight of the world being lifted off my shoulders. I felt lighter. I could breathe again.

I went to the restroom to freshen up. When I came back, lunchtime was over and the others had returned. Even though my face was all made up again, it was obvious I’d just had a cry. But nobody mentioned it.

I carried on with my tasks.

This time, though, I was more present and grounded with myself.

“No mistake that you make will start a war” became my motto, my mantra, my anthem. It allowed me to loosen up, and this in turn made me more creative, more flexible, and more adaptable to circumstances.

As you’re starting out in any industry, you may feel the same desperation and impatience to prove your worth that I did.

But the more you try to prove yourself, the quicker you will burn out.

You will take things personally.
You will find yourself agonizing over every minor detail.
You will become indecisive about things because you want it all to be “perfect.”

But know this: perfection is subjective.

What is perfect for you may not be for another, and vice versa. There is no universal state of “perfection.”

Sometimes we’ll fumble.

Sometimes “good enough” is good enough.

And that’s okay. Chances are, the things you’re fretting over aren’t nearly as significant as you believe them to be.

After all—it’s not like they’re going to start a war.




Author: Maria Kathlyn Tan
Image: Elephant archives
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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