Note: Blog post subject matter is discussed in more detail on the Athalonz Podcast.
I have been thinking a lot about perfectionism lately. It’s been the topic of conversation in many of my recent therapy sessions. I’m working on putting perfectionism into proper perspective.
As I’ve discussed before, my childhood abuse left me feeling that I was a worthless, stupid, ugly, piece of crap that couldn’t do anything right. I also adopted an all or nothing approach to many things in my life. If I put no effort into something or didn’t care about it, then I was ok with not being good at it. If, however, I put effort into it and/or I cared about it, then being good wasn’t good enough, I had to be perfect.
As a child, I only cared about baseball. I didn’t apply myself in school, I was a C student but I did apply myself at baseball. As such, I was viewed as your typical dumb jock and I was ok with it.
As I started to excel in baseball, my father began to coach my teams. It was awful. First, he knew nothing about baseball; he started coaching to get accolades via me. “Oh, you’re Tim’s dad, you must be so proud, he’s so good”, and stuff like that.
Secondly, he was hyper critical. I could go three-for-four and throw a one-hitter and all I would hear about for days was “how could I make that out” and “how could you give up that hit”. This set me up to strive for perfection beyond reasonable human capabilities. I really didn’t want my father’s praise, I just wanted him to shut up about the human imperfections of my play. Imperfections that are a natural part of baseball.
As many survivors of abuse do, I carried the negative image of myself and the all or nothing approach into adulthood. My “all” approach was to strive for perfection beyond reasonable human capabilities was a doubled edged sword. On the one edge, it pushed me to strive to be the best and to set new standards.
When I didn’t reach such levels, the other edge kicked in and I deemed it as a personal failure. That re-enforced the negative image of myself that I was a worthless piece of crap that couldn’t do anything right. Striving for “superhuman” perfectionism is a new realization for me and, at present, is quite challenging to put into proper perspective.
As an example of my superhuman perfectionism, I went to college to play baseball and decided to study electrical engineering. For some reason (which I still don’t understand today), I started to apply myself academically. I became a straight “A” student, often getting the highest grade in the class. Not good enough. If I received a 98 out of 100 on a test and it was 10 points higher than the next highest grade in the calls, I still felt like a failure. I should have gotten a 100 on the test.
Also, the superhuman perfectionism lead to the mindset that I could never be wrong or less than perfect. In my negative image, one thing that went wrong outweighed 99 things that went right.
My defense to the superhuman perfectionism was to do nothing, quit, put no effort into it, and/or have no emotional investment in the outcome. It was hard not to have an emotional investing in the outcome of things for me, so most of the time I did nothing or quit. Yet, in many areas of my life, I didn’t quit. I wish I knew why, I just didn’t.
I didn't quit on striving to be a perfectionist professionally, which help me accomplish some pretty amazing things. For instance, I created a new methodology to patent protecting a small company’s technology that provided them similar financial benefits of a large company at a fraction of the cost. Nothing like this had been done before. Yet, with expecting superhuman perfectionism, in this case extraordinary results, I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment, I felt I was doing my job.
Through my years of recovery, I’ve been able to craft a new image of myself. I now view myself as a smart person; I have a lot to offer so I have worth; I am not ugly (I’m ok looking); I’m worthy of being loved and am loved, and I can do a lot of things well. Yet, I still have many all or nothing unrealistic perfectionism traits, which is why it’s a current topic in my therapy.
I see where the superhuman perfectionism came from, but changing that mindset is proving to be challenging. As my therapist puts it: I live in a black and white world and I need to induce gray into it. Gray is where most things lay.”
Objectively, I buy that. Subjectively, however, living my whole life with unrealistic expectations, it’s hard to overcome. Like many aspects of my recovery, identifying what to heal is a big part of the healing process. So, I’m confident I’ll be able to put perfectionism into proper perspective for me and be ok with being human.
I am the CEO and Founder of Athalonz, LLC., I am a founding partner of the patent boutique law firm of Garlick & Markison, I am a survivor of child abuse, and I am an inventor on over 300 patents.
Athalonz is a technology company based on Mesa, AZ. It develops and sells athletic footwear, which incorporates its patented technology that leverages the laws of physics to improve athletic performance. Website: athalonz.com
Garlick & Markison is a patent law boutique firm that assists clients in building a patent business within their business using proprietary tools and techniques. Website: texaspatents.com
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