The T of Living Imperfectly: Thriving Amongst the Toil #atozchallenge

chair swivel

T Challenge LetterIn my C post I wrote about career change and how, as a perfectionist, I fought the notion that taking a break to change careers was acceptable. Today’s post takes us back to the topic of work. Most of us have to do it and most of us struggle with it.

I remember back about a decade and half ago, I was managing this woman as part of a project. This person was a great worker, diligent, competent and for the most part a real doer. She usually worked back to get the job done and managed to do it all whilst raising two young children. Mostly, every bosses dream. But looking back on it, she was a perfectionist. Like me she toiled first and then played and one day it all got on top of her. She broke down crying to complain that she was always the last out of the office and had missed out on many an office social function because of work she had to do.

As a young and inexperienced manager, I listened to her to cry and calmed her down, but didn’t really understand the issue for no-one had asked her to stay back and miss out on being social. But that is the way she interpreted it.

Being a whole lot wiser and having battled my own perfectionist tendencies I now understand that she was playing into her own self-imposed hard work picstandards or standards that she assumed the work place required. She felt she had to stay back and do the work, because that would make her feel on top of things and in control, in short, closer to perfection.

I have been there too. Sitting in the office at dinner time seething with resentment because I have stayed back to get something done and not understanding how others can merrily march off to socialize when work still remains.

The reality is most of us compete against ourselves. That’s exactly what I was doing but didn’t take into account the cost. Because this sort of behaviour tends to yield success in the conventional sense, I ignored my frustrations and wore my personal sacrifice like a warm cloak.

Another former colleague used to only leave the office to go home to her young family once she had cleared her in tray. Her thinking was that if something came in late in the day and it was small, she could knock it out of the way to concentrate on the bigger things the following day.  “Just this one small thing” she would tell herself. The one small thing generally always took longer than first anticipated and whilst doing the one small thing, a lot of other small things would also find their way into her inbox. After discussing the issue, she finally admitted that there was no real difference if she tackled the small thing in the morning. In short, more self-imposed pressure and sacrifice.

harry potter quoteI have since learned to control my desire to get everything done at work before being able to enjoy my colleagues’ social company. I can also now leave at the end of the day without having ruled a neat little line under my work to signify done. I am no longer being sacrificed at my own altar of perfection.  If a situation calls for a real deadline and I have to stay back then I have no issue with that. But, I have stopped imposing unrealistic deadlines on myself and for punishing myself if I don’t meet them.

And the socializing certainly hasn’t hurt the networking and in fact has made me happier overall and more productive.

I love what I do and am thriving in my toil. The boundaries I have set have helped me realise what’s important and to move away from perfect.

Hard work, doesn’t mean losing yourself. Its means applying constant effort constructively.


About the curtain raiserhttp://raisingthecurtain.netI have spent my life in offices. For now I am putting that behind me and preparing for the second act. Middle age didn't come with acceptable signposts so I am making my own through my writing. A journey shared is more fun than going it solo.

14 thoughts on “The T of Living Imperfectly: Thriving Amongst the Toil #atozchallenge

  1. I’m guilty as charged on this one. I never left the office until everything was done, which made for some very late nights. But I couldn’t relax until the work was done. Plus, I knew if I didn’t tend to it, there would only be more the next day, and soon so much would pile up, I’d be in on the weekend. Led to a nice dose of antacids, it did. 🙂

    • I think most professionals have been there. Even now, our section of the office is the last to leave, because it is so ingrained in our profession. The best thing is that the boss usually beats us all out of the door because she really understands priorities.

  2. Another great post on a critical point for perfectionists. I worked far more than I should have, just as you described. It was very difficult for me to change that. I’m not sure I did until I was already burned out. Part of my problem (bet others have this, too) was I didn’t delegate effectively, thinking I needed to do it myself because no one else would do it as well (ie the way I would do it). I only hurt myself by holding on so tightly when others could do the job even if they did it differently than I would.

    Good for you for being able to adjust and lighten your own burden. You will definitely stay healthier because of it.

    • Your comment reads as if it were me about 5 years ago. I felt and thought the very same way and pushed myself to burn out as well. Another reason why I had to get off the treadmill for a while and work out what I really wanted. Sometimes life seems so automatic and we forget to ask ourselves why are doing certain things.

      • Our body eventually gives us some pretty obvious messages when we overtax ourselves. It sometimes takes awhile for us to heed the message.

  3. Judy, this is a hard lesson for people to learn. If you want any life away from work, you have to shut it down and pull a Scarlett O’Hara – “I will worry about that tomorrow.” She needs to add the late in the day tray entries to her To-Do list and go home. BTG

    • Totally agree, it amazes me the number of people who respond to emails on their day off under the guise of being more in control when they get back. You do have to switch off and switch off totally.

  4. It’s true that a lot of pressure is self-inflicted but I also had my share of Dilbertesque anecdotes, that is: Exactly those people who tell you to “work less” and “leave earlier” are the same who explicitly demand you to finish X before end of calendar day. Which can only work in Pointy-Haired Boss’ illogical universe.
    In my very first job (academia) I had been told repeatedly that working as much as I can – especially in the evening and in the weekends – is expected. You would not want these expensive devices to sit in the lab un-utilized. Today I think this still does happen, but I suppose it to be phrased in a less obvious way which might make its manipulate power even stronger.

I would really love to hear what you have to say. C'mon.. you know you want to!

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