Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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Fear Of Failure, Fear Of Success, Passion For Excellence — The Complexity Of Perfectionism

My 5 minute intro video

Before we get into it, I have to share this moment of insight. Have you struggled with what to say when people ask you, what do you do for a living? Or they want to know, how are you? Or they ask you for your favorite book or your favorite color or your favorite documentary or your favorite anything? Well my friends, here is your one size fits all answer. You say: IT’S COMPLICATED. Then, if they look at you smiling expectantly, you can elaborate. If they glaze over, groan, or walk away mumbling, you know you don’t have to waste your time explaining.

And so it is with perfectionism. Complicated. I’ll never forget the gifted teenage boy I was working with. He wasn’t doing well in school and his parents were trying to figure out why. I don’t remember what I said in the moment but I remember his response. “It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.” He was so right.

There are two types of perfectionism. Intrinsic or healthy. Extrinsic or unhealthy. I have written about intrinsic before. Here. And extrinsic here. And here.

Today, I am going to give you a new look at the intrinsic variety and then share my thoughts about the client dilemma I mention in the video above. Her fears of failure and success.

Intrinsic perfectionism is the innate version that is your deep, heartfelt striving for beauty, balance, harmony, justice, and precision. It is not ego-driven or pathological. It is what your soul must have to feel nourished, authentic, and met. It comes naturally to you. You may not realize that many others do not have this, so they (and you) may label it obsessive, neurotic, controlling, or compulsive.

It is not any of those things.

I don’t usually use celebrities as examples but I happened upon this YouTube interview of Barbra Streisand. She personifies intrinsic perfectionism. If you know of her acting, singing, and directing, all of it is extremely meticulous, detail oriented, precise– in films, down to each single frame (she says in the interview). And this drive is not just professional. In the video, she talks about her personal need for beauty and how carefully she has designed her home. Colors, textures, sounds, tastes, smells. This is not a wealthy person being self-indulgent. This is a gifted human with the highest standards for beauty, balance, harmony, and precision. And when it comes to justice, she has that, too. Streisand is an outspoken activist who cares deeply and has contributed quite a lot to creating a better world.

Granted, you are probably not a celebrity, but I am betting you can relate to this description. As I say in my video, your job is to embrace this about yourself and appreciate the extraordinary quality that emerges when you live this way. That said, there will be days when you can’t quite satisfy these standards– many moments when there is no time because you still have to do the laundry. Thus, you will need to evaluate the specific situation you are in. Is supreme depth and highest quality really necessary here? Might your standards be lowered in this particular case?

Consider, then, there will be times when you will need to prioritize. Otherwise, some important tasks may be missed. Relationships may be neglected. For example: Do you really need to send the perfect email to your friend? Does the apple pie need to look gorgeous as long as it tastes delicious? Will your three year old really notice if the birthday party is skipped this year? Does the newsletter you design and write for your electric utility job need to be visually stunning and comprehensive so that you have to work overtime to complete it when, chances are, your customers will toss it in the recycle bin unread?

Priorities.

Got it?

Now, referring to my client’s fears of failure and success, what did I tell her as she was unable to learn the new painting technique quickly and easily? When she was tempted to quit because she did not feel she had natural talent and was not used to having to work at something, having to practice, and struggle to learn?

This: It’s complicated. You are not used to struggling because typically you learn many things quickly. But it is good and appropriate that some things take time and practice. This is how it is for most people. You may want to quit because this struggle may confirm in your mind that you are not gifted after all. But giftedness does not equal advanced abilities in all areas all the time! And you need to model for your kids that patience, practice, struggle, and setbacks are all part of growth and learning. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes after an achievement borne of struggle.

My client looked at me. Not particularly convinced by my explanation.

What did I tell my client about her desire to hide her accomplishments for fear of criticism, jealousy, and rejection by others?

This: It’s complicated. It is true that you may need to select carefully who you tell about your achievements. Not everyone will celebrate your successes. But that does not mean you should not achieve or that you should not strive for excellence. (Excellence, not perfection.) Your job is to be you. To shine your light. It will be important to find at least a few humans who love that you are so prolific or so talented or so accomplished or so kind-hearted. Build a team, however small, of advocates who are not threatened but who are thrilled by your pure, authentic, magnificent youness.

My client looked at me. She will think about it.

And, I imagine, my dearest magnificent complicated rainforesters, that you will think about it, too.

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To my blogEEs: This one took me a while to write. Do I think I’m a perfectionist? Do you relate to many of these complications? We would love to hear from you. As always, thank you for being here. Much love!


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When Humans Keep Letting You Down

photo courtesy John Nakamura Remy, Unsplash

Humans disappoint you. They don’t live up to your expectations. Sure you have high standards. But you’re not asking all that much, right? If people just tried harder, they could accomplish quite a lot.

Couldn’t they?

Not just relatives and friends. Not just politicians and educators. But others. Contractors, internet providers, artists, activists, doctors, celebrities and psychotherapists. Disappointing.

What is wrong with humans? Don’t they care about quality? Excellence? Compassion?

Now, I don’t actually know all humans. But I’m guessing that most of them do care. That said, here are some things that you need to know.

When you have a rainforest mind, you have many abilities. A large capacity for learning and a love of knowledge. You may know a lot, in multiple fields; sometimes more than the “experts.” You can also have exceptionally high standards for your work. Producing quality is part of your identity. Being fair and compassionate matters to you. And all of this feels normal. Isn’t everyone like this? 

No. Everyone is not like this.

You may not have any training in home building but you may know that your contractor’s plan for your family room will not work. You may not have a medical degree but you may know that your cardiologist is not seeing the whole picture. You may never have run a nonprofit but in two weeks you could set up a system that would provide for much greater efficiency and productivity. You may not have a psychology degree but you’re a better counselor than your psychotherapy-trained coworkers.

People tell you that you expect too much. That you need to be satisfied with less. That mediocrity is good enough. That you’re an overachiever and an arrogant know-it-all. That you need to “shut up and sing…” (to quote a powerful song from the Dixie Chicks)

These messages and experiences can make you feel a little crazy. A little less than. Maybe a lot less than. Lonely. A little too responsible.

Or you may wonder how to live your best life when people you’d like to depend upon keep dropping the ball.

You’re tired of always picking up the balls.

So darned many balls.

But your family, your community and your world needs you. Your excellence. Your quality. Your compassion. Now, more than ever.*

So you can still sing. Definitely sing.

But don’t shut up.

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To my dearest bloggEEs: How do you deal with this? Are you tired of juggling all the balls? Are there ways you take care of yourself when you feel discouraged or exhausted? Are there people that you’ve found who will show up for you? Where have you found others with rainforest minds? Can you allow yourself to acknowledge your limits and create a healthy balance? This blog post is just the beginning of the discussion. We need to hear from you!

*That said, repeat after me: I am not responsible for everyone’s dropped balls.

Thank you to the bloggEE who suggested this topic.

Here’s the story behind the Dixie Chicks’ song.


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Perfectionism’s Twin Sister

Now that we’ve dealt with the elephant (see my last post Gifted Shmifted) and you’re contemplating the possibility that you just may be g-g-g-gifted, we shall continue on our trek through the jungle–your wild, fertile and colorful rainforest mind.

I want to get back to perfectionism. The good kind. Yes, there is a healthy perfectionism. It can still drive you and your coworkers, friends and relatives a little crazy. It can still stop you from starting a project. Or stop you from finishing. But it’s not something to discard, destroy or disregard. It’s an inherent part of your nature. You were born with this.

Simply stated: You strive for beauty, balance, harmony, justice and precision in all things. (Well, maybe not ALL things. Maybe it doesn’t apply to your garage.)

Am I right?   P1050340

I might add that this means you have extremely high standards and expectations for yourself.  I say this with confidence because I’ve seen this intrinsic perfectionism in practically every rainforest-minded person I’ve ever known. And I’ve been hanging out with them since the mid-70’s. That’s a very long time. That’s a lot of people.

Tell me: Are you often obsessed with an idea? Driven? Researching incessantly? Do you keep raising the bar when you reach a goal? When you were a child, did you fail to turn in assignments when they didn’t meet your standards, even when you knew you’d get an “A?”

See? What did I tell you?

What about this: When you see perfection in an ocean sunset or in a star-filled night sky, when you hear perfection in the music that you adore, when you taste perfection at that restaurant in Paris, does it take your breath away?  Or when you find the exact word for the story or when all of the elements of your experiment line up just right, or when the poetry of the mathematical equation sings to you, is there a sense of satisfaction that is deep and unmistakable?

Yes? Good.

Here’s the problem.

Other people don’t get it.

It looks neurotic, dysfunctional, excessive, and OCD to them. Maybe to you, too. It’s not. But it can get you kicked out of graduate school because you don’t hand in your poems on time. It can mean that your colleagues don’t invite you to join them at happy hour. It can mean that your taxes are four years overdue.

Did I mention that this might be a problem?

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How, then, do you keep your vision, your idealism, your capacity for creating mental, emotional, spiritual or actual cathedrals and still do your taxes, maintain friendships or stay in school?

First, recognize that intrinsic perfectionism is part of who you are and it means that, with you, beauty happens. Quality is expected and produced. And this is a good thing.

Second, look for other rainforest-minded folks and appreciate their high standards. Invite them out for happy hour. Get feedback on your work from people with similar expectations and abilities so that you respect and believe what they’re telling you.

Finally, prioritize. Find the projects and activities that really don’t need to be exquisite or comprehensive or ridiculously awe-inspiring. Excellence can be enough. Good enough can be enough. On occasion. For the less important things. I mean it.

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Note to blogEEs:

1. Thankfully, none of you have complained to me yet about the fact that my blog is totally anecdotal and not based on hard data and double blind studies. I’m quite open to your questions and concerns but just want you to know that I know that some of you may object to my nonlinear undocumented broad conclusions.

2. Along those same lines, I’m fully aware that the rain forest is incredibly diverse. So are individuals with rainforest minds. That said, I’m describing common traits and issues that I’ve seen in students, clients and friends over 30+ years. You may or may not share these traits and issues. You may or may not agree with me. I’m good with that. It’s what I love about you.